Student-athletes shine as part of EMSB’s Lester B. Pearson High School Sport-études program
Adriano Bocchicchio and Isabella Papa’s school day at Lester B. Pearson High School in Montreal North begins like most high schoolers across the province. Their mornings are spent in the classroom, learning math, science and history, among other subjects. However, once third period comes to an end and lunchtime arrives, Bocchicchio and Papa put away their books for the day, instead hitting the nearby ice hockey rink or soccer pitch as part of the school’s Sport-études program.
“We’re on the ice four times a week with one off-ice training session as well,” said Bocchicchio, a Secondary IV ice-hockey defenceman in the Honours Math in the Sports Concentration program.
“We train five times a week,” said Papa, a goalkeeper with ARS Bourassa and Secondary V Honours Math student.
Lester B. Pearson High School has offered its high-level Sport-études program since 2003, in conjunction with various provincial sports federations. Student-athletes train five days a week for a minimum of 15 combined hours under the program, as per federation guidelines. It is recognized by the ministère de l’Éducation du Québec (MEQ) and is the only school within the English Montreal School Board to offer such a program.
The program affords student-athletes the opportunity to combine academics with their passion for one of a long list of athletic disciplines, including baseball, boxing, cheerleading, dance, figure skating, hockey, judo, kickboxing, soccer, speed skating, swimming, taekwondo, & track and field.
Prior to being accepted into the Sport-études program, student-athletes must be recognized by one of the school’s sport partners and meet provincial standards. In the case of soccer and hockey players, they must try out to make their respective sports. From there, an application to Lester B. Pearson’s Sport-études program is submitted, where academics are then taken into account.
“We’re trying to create a perfect marriage of the athlete and the student,” said Casey Gagné, the school’s Sport-études coordinator. “We’re looking for people that are going to be able to balance the athletics and the academics. We want to make sure they have a good foundation academically and if we are able to marry that with the athletics, that’s amazing and a great opportunity for the students.”
Mr. Gagné emphasizes all students at the school are held to the same academic standards and evaluations, no matter if they are in the Sport-études program or not. The only difference, he says, is that student-athletes are taught at an accelerated pace, with school curriculum being taught in 75 per cent of the time. Student-athletes are, however, provided resources and pedagogical support in the form of daily study hall and tutorials.
“Our student-athletes do really well,” said Mr. Gagné. “The teachers are very supportive and really work hard to make sure that the students are able to maintain the academic standards that we want for them. We want them to be top-level students, as well as top-level athletes.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has had minimal impact on the operations of the Sport-études program, according to Mr. Gagné. He credits the health protocols and sanitary measures implemented by the various sport federations, in association with the provincial government, in ensuring a seamless and safe return to training for student-athletes this fall.
“All it has changed is the way the sport has had to train the athletes, in the same way that the classes have had to be changed within schools,” said Mr. Gagné. “It’s still sport-études. The athletes are still training every day trying to perfect their skills of their preferred sport. They are still living the dream as a young student-athlete.”
There also were changes in the school’s open house this year. A virtual open house was held in late September, as opposed to a traditional in-person showcase of the building. Nevertheless, Mr. Gagné says prospective student-athletes “got a good sense of the program and the people here” via the Virtual Tour online. He also says many local elementary school children, in both grades five and six, were visited last year by students and members of the administration to discuss the program.
Lester B. Pearson’s Sport-études program has produced highly-renowned and successful athletes over the years. The long list includes NHLer Anthony Duclair, Canadian national artistic swimming team member Kiara Quieti, University of Pittsburgh women’s soccer midfielder Chloe Minas, and former Concordia Stinger women’s hockey forward turned hockey coach Alexandria D’Onofrio.
Mr. Gagné continues to marvel at the success of his Sport-études alums. While he takes great pride in those continuing to perfect their craft on the national and international stage, Gagné is also quick to point out other success stories within the program.
“We have doctors and engineers,” said Mr. Gagné. “The students come in out of elementary school bright-eyed and timid. You see them five years later, much more confident and with satisfaction that they were able to manage their time properly and take their sport to the next level. They leave here mature, responsible and independent with good values they have gained from their time here at Lester B. Pearson High School.”