MONTREAL, OCTOBER 28, 2010 – It makes sense that Friday would be the best day to visit St. Raphael School in Ahuntsic. There’s almost certainly a buzz about the upcoming weekend and the Second Start children are more often than not immersed in “Fun Friday” programs.
Yet, it’s Thursday, and still, something’s pleasantly different.
Perhaps it’s the smell of a freshly baked apple crisp, cooked up by some talented high school students, or it’s the sound of Lynn Martel, vice-president of Dormez-Vous entertaining the children in her weekly reading sessions.
Whatever the day, since the beginning of the 2010 academic year, St. Raphael has been bubbling with excitement and anticipation as the vision of new principal Harold Penn is beginning to take shape.
“When I first came here, some teachers wanted to change the name of St. Raphael to really begin giving the school a new image,” said Penn. “I asked them, do you know who St. Raphael was? Not many people know; St. Raphael was the patron saint of lost children.”
St. Raphael offers a psycho-educational program (a blend of psychosocial, behavioural and educational programs) for students with behavioural difficulties, as classified by the Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sports. The school places the emphasis on the student’s ability to learn the necessary coping skills to successfully reintegrate into the educational mainstream. While adhering to the integrity and basic standards of a regular academic program, the students receive specialized services for behavioural problems and a quality academic education. Admission to St. Raphael High School is by referral
New ideas reverberate from Penn’s desk, through to his teachers, and onto the students. They in turn become new experiences which translate to memories that become engrained in everyone. An October field trip to an orchard for apple picking was a first for most students, while the newest addition to the St. Raphael family, Lynn Martel and Dormez-Vous donated dozens of backpacks, each filled to capacity with every school supply imaginable, simply to ensure that 2010 began on the right foot.
“This school year has started on a hopeful note. Positive action and interactions are taking place and those who visit are pleasantly surprised by the state of affairs,” said Stacey Nash, a teacher at St. Raphael. “Although it has only been two months, I am confident that, with continuous support from the school board and our partners, we will continue to make strides in the right direction.”
While credit should be given to everyone at St. Raphael, Penn is foremost thankful to the school board and Regional Director Marzia Michelli ,who have entrenched themselves in his corner and supported his every effort.
Although there are a myriad of programs on Penn’s radar, perhaps the one he’s most excited about is his upcoming venture with a former bicycle shop owner and the Montreal Police Department. Come spring time, Penn hopes to receive 100 donated bicycles from the police, which he will in turn, hand over to his high school students.
“We will be setting up a real bicycle shop with the help of a retired and volunteer former bicycle shop owner,” said Penn. “He will teach the students how to perform basic maintenance on the bicycles and they will fix them up and at the end of the year, every child in both elementary and high school will receive a bicycle and a helmet. For those graduating from St. Raphael, we will also try to ensure that their training goes to good use by helping them find a job at a bicycle repair shop.”
While the whole mantra of St. Raphael is to offer children and young adults a new lease on life, for the actual Second Start group, this year has also been successful thus far.
“No matter how hard the day is, we make sure that there are always positives,” said Second Start teacher Victoria Xanthos.
“We make sure that there’s a level of open communication with everyone, including families and parents,” added co-teacher Mike Andonovski.
Xanthos, Andonovski, as well as their two other co-teachers, understand that for these students, personal attention matters. It is for that reason that Second Start has only 12 students, ensuring that a three to one ratio between the children and teachers is always in place in order to build strong relationships. With practice, it’s become evident that these bonds will more often than not prevent any outbursts or problems and aid in the development of social skills.
For the most part, the formula has worked to a tee. With enough hard work during the week, students are rewarded with “Fun Fridays,” a day that mixes a very small amount of work with afternoon movies or games.
Overseeing all these efforts, two months into his tenure, Penn could not be more pleased.
“We are a school with standards, both academic and behavioural. We teach life skills, academic skills and also vocational skills,” said Penn. “If you decide not to follow our vision, just don’t say that nobody gave you the chance.”
”With all due respect to St. Raphael himself, our children are not lost,” he added. “They are just on their way back.”