MONTREAL, MARCH 26, 2012 – For Sue Meyer, the guidance counselor at James Lyng High School in St. Henri, every morning, she leaves one family to join another.
Despite the mélange of cultures and backgrounds at James Lyng, there’s no other way to describe the atmosphere and relationships at the community school, and especially since the establishment of the core program, it’s always been that way.
“Certainly within the core, the teacher is with the students for four periods a day and the same kids are together all the time, so they really get to develop relationships,” said Meyer. “Because the core teachers are with them so much they are able to foster certain habits, and having continuity and developing a certain way of doing things. It’s a good bridge between elementary school and traditional school.”
“That’s one of the benefits of having a small school is that everybody knows each other,” added Principal Angela Vaudry, who re-joined the staff at James Lyng this year after spending two and a half years as the Vice-Principal at Vincent Massey Collegiate in Rosemount. “Normally, students go from having one teacher to having eight or nine; the core program at James Lyng offers a good segway that is less overwhelming.”
With the core program ending in Grade 9, the relationships between peers have already been set in stone, allowing the students to work together and finish high school in the same stream as their peers throughout the EMSB.
Yet, in order to ensure that the pressures of adulthood bypass the students as well, in what is perhaps the toughest year of high school, Secondary 5, students participate in a Mentoring Program, a unique initiative which pairs students with the adults in the school.
“Some of our students have struggles outside of school and we become a much more supportive role to the students as a whole, not specifically academics,” said Vaudry. “There are six adults and we take all the students and split them amongst us and we mentor them personally. In this school, the most important thing is the relationships that you have with the students and very often for a bunch of reasons, they don’t always feel that they have a voice; they don’t always feel that they have someone in their corner being an advocate for them. Their mentor does that for them. We meet regularly and we’ll ask them what it is that they’re struggling with, how we can support them and sometimes just through that interaction, that relationship building, they build a little bit of confidence.”
The mentoring program is only one ray of sunlight which shines through the James Lyng skylights on a daily basis. As a community institution, the school was selected to become a Community Learning Centre (CLC) which allows for the integration of a myriad of special programs and activities which benefit students and the neighborhood as a whole.
“We really see the community organizations as our allies. We have Youth Fusion in here that is doing wonderful things with our kids after school and at lunch. Sometimes it gives them something to look forward to,” said Meyer. “We have other groups like RECA, which is a group for elderly people and they get involved with certain events such as a Food Tasting for Black History Month. For the kids point of view, it shows them that there are people out there who do not know them personally, but they still are about them and have an interest them. It also makes them feel like a valued member of society.”
Echoing these feelings in the classroom is the challenge that teachers at James Lyng face on a daily basis. Many of the students have not had a history of success at school, and need to be inspired and reinvigorated to step back into the classroom with an open mind.
“In my experience as a teacher here, sometimes motivating the students is very difficult. Any success that I’ve had with them was always once they realized that I really did care, that I wasn’t just doing my job. There was something there that I connected with them, they connected with me. When they learn that someone really cares about them, they’re comfortable in moving ahead,” said Vaudry.
It’s this feeling which truly transforms the school into one big family. From the administration to the teachers, the adults at James Lyng walk into the school every morning ready to try something new and do what has to be done to ensure that their students are one step closer to graduation and adulthood.
“At the end of the day, you try different things and some things won’t work, but you have to keep trying until something does work,” added Vaudry. “That’s the beauty of this building is that it seems that everybody has this drive and tenacity to just figure it out. If we fail 20 times, maybe the 21st time will be the right one. That’s the attitude we have here.”