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Foundation Prizes: one inspiring story at a time

Éliane Vinet
October 5, 2020

Going back to school came with some twists this year for the students, parents and—well—pretty much everyone else! But we humans have an incredible ability to adapt to new situations and find the silver lining. In this article, you’ll meet some inspiring teachers and educators who encouraged their students to dream big by getting them involved in meaningful projects. These stories will make you smile—and maybe even inspire you to organize a meaningful project of your own!

Coming together for the environment

For almost 10 years now, Michelle Beaudin has been running a small sewing workshop in her elementary school class in Montérégie. Why? To help the planet, of course! In the MiniRecy workshop, kids make reusable handkerchiefs and napkins out of pyjamas, curtains and flannel shirts—which also happen to be softer on the nose than paper tissues! And everyone gets to participate: Some students sew, others wrap, and some even sit on the workshop’s board of directors! With the profits they make from the sales, students buy materials and specialized tools for kids with motor difficulties.

At Bon-Pasteur, an elementary school in Centre-du-Québec, Julie Faucher’s students realized just how many plastic bags were ending up in the garbage. To tackle the problem, they hatched a brilliant plan: to create bags out of cloth! They formed committees based on everyone’s individual interests, whether that was tracing, cutting, sewing, wrapping or creating logos. This gave students a chance to practice math, French, computer science and even their social skills. Keen to encourage bonding between generations, Julie also invited parents and grandparents to take part in the initiative.

When Melanie Forest, an art therapist in a LaSalle elementary school, learned about the crisis affecting bees, she wanted to teach her class about it by installing a beehive on the roof of the school. The practical and engaging idea helped kids realize that they could have a direct impact on the environment. It was also the perfect opportunity to teach them about biology, food production and even entrepreneurship. In the medium term, Melanie wants to harvest the honey with her class and sell it to raise money for the cause.

Supporting diversity and inclusion one initiative at a time

At Tourelle d’Asbestors elementary, Marie-Pierre Champagne’s grade 5 students make paper for cards and bookmarks. Marie-Pierre had her students pair up with Christine Jacques’s class of kids with multiple disabilities in the hopes of teaching them about acceptance, inclusion and working together. Students who participate in the project develop manual dexterity, get a taste of the entrepreneurial spirit and learn about budget management. Most importantly, they learn to help one another out.

Nancy Santerre is a kindergarten and elementary-school teacher in Bécancour, where she started a multi-generational exchange program between students and senior residents. Thanks to Nancy’s initiative, kids get to meet and interact with seniors from the retirement home across the street from the school. They engage through a variety of activities like singing, theatre, yoga and arts and crafts. It’s a fantastic way to teach young people about respect and compassion from an early age.

Nathalie Lévesque is president of Regroupement Autisme Prescott-Russell, a program in Ontario that offers support to individuals with autism. The children in the program love Christmas—even the older kids in the group believe in Santa Claus. Unfortunately, meeting Santa at the mall isn’t so easy for them, but Nathalie still wants them to have a magical time. So with the holidays approaching, she plans to surprise them with a show, a gift and a festive, allergen-free snack—all with the help of facilitators to build up the kids’ trust and confidence.

Raising the adults of tomorrow

As a teenager, Guillaume Rodrigue used to go to the Maison des jeunes l’Olivier des Etchemins youth club. Almost 20 years later, he coordinates all the centre’s activities. Guillaume believes that the experiences we provide young people have an impact on their self-esteem. That’s why he organizes graffiti workshops and invites a professional artist to come teach teens about art techniques and help them create their own art. The initiative has the double benefit of shining a positive light on graffiti art and helping teens feel like they belong by getting them to participate in a project that affects them directly. Guillaume’s ultimate goal? To help the teens he works with become active, independent and responsible critical thinkers.

While some workshops teach art, others teach valuable life skills. Karianne Lizotte is a facilitator at the Maison des jeunes youth club in Témiscouata-sur-le-Lac. At the request of the 15- to 17-year-olds at the centre, she prepared a series of practical workshops to help them prepare for living alone—something many of them will do once they continue their studies outside the region. During the workshops, they develop the tools they need to become independent and learn things like cooking simple meals, making a budget and managing their time. By the end of the program, Karianne hopes they’re ready to embark on the next chapter of their lives.

Chantal Belley works at Collège des Hauts Sommets in Saint-Tite-des-Caps, the only establishment of its kind in the province. It has 2 school residences that house around 100 young people with specific disabilities. The college offers an alternative teaching style and very personalized guidance. Educators at the school want to set up a relaxing space where teens can come to take a break from their day and recharge their batteries. Students will help with the planning, organizing and decorating while working with a budget. Together, they’ll create a space that will boost their self-esteem and sense of belonging.

At Desjardins, we’re committed to helping young people stay in school—which is exactly why we created the Desjardins Foundation Prizes. We provide up to $3,000 in financial assistance to teachers and educators at the kindergarten through high school levels so that they can bring their ideas to life, no matter how big or small. Because as Melanie says, even “a small bee can make a big difference.” Have ideas of your own to help young people shine? Right this way.

And to learn more about the initiatives launched by Marie-Pierre, Melanie and Guillaume, listen to our new podcast, Beyond the Classroom.