They are on the cusp of adulthood, they are riddled with problems, with childhood wounds, and school, for them, has been a long traumatic experience. Some of them got lost in the “hole” of adult education. And then, they landed at Déclic, an organization whose mission is to hang them up at school. And, unexpectedly, it works. Welcome to the miracle factory.

“I will never go back to school!” »

10 years ago, Carolann Gauthier was a little punk girl with purple hair. With a vengeful finger, she warned Benoît Bernier, founder of the Declic group, of what awaited him if by chance he considered talking to her about going back to school.

Ten years later, Carolann has blue hair…and three degrees. She who couldn’t write the letters of her own name correctly at 20, who couldn’t fully recognize her numbers, ran her own tailoring business for six years and now has her dream job: hatmaker for a costume shop. .

Such is life at Déclic, from little miracle to little miracle. The organization’s mission is to “reconnect” young people who have dropped out of school. And not the least: “You have the most difficult students to educate”, summed up the renowned psychologist Égide Royer, after visiting the group a few years ago.

Carolann hit her wall in 4th grade. She failed to pass her year. And that’s when we had him evaluated by a neuropsychologist. Diagnosis: dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysorthographia.

After wandering and leaving her native Abitibi, she ends up at Déclic. She is part of a group that is doing a photo project. She realizes that she is, despite all her problems, privileged. “The other young people, they didn’t have good families, they came from the DPJ, they had been picked up all over the place. There was one sleeping in her chariot because her mother had just kicked her out… I was the only one with two parents that I knew! And then I said to myself: if I belong here, maybe my situation is worse than I thought…”

At Déclic, she finds “a great calm, an acceptance”. She takes advantage of this break to refocus. “When I got here, I said to myself: but who am I? What do I want? They gave me the courage to do my DEP in tailoring. »

And the sequel is told almost like a fairy tale. Costumes included.

Like Carolann, the young people we welcome at Déclic, an organization that has existed for nearly 30 years, often come from very, very far away. They almost always have learning disabilities, sometimes mental health. The vast majority are ex-children of the DPJ. “And those who are not, they often went under the radar of the DPJ,” explains Sonia Lombart, founder of Déclic with her accomplice Benoît Bernier.

They are adults but have the equivalent of a 1st or 2nd secondary… “and in fact, they can be level 5th or 6th grade”, explains Benoît Bernier. They have very often made their school career on sidings. At the start of high school, it was judged that they would be unable to graduate and they were referred to pre-work type training. “In fact, their schooling ended there,” summarizes Isabelle Breault, a worker at Déclic.

“I saw what it was, those classes. The teachers end up with all the roles. And there is no one to refer to. You don’t have time to do anything. You want to help them… but you’re the third teacher they have in the year…”, summarizes Charlotte Grenier, remedial teacher at Déclic.

When they arrive at the organization, young people experience insecurity with regard to housing and food, they are often drug users. Normal, says Isabelle Breault: “To consume, it saved their life. It allowed them to escape from terrible situations. They lived through significant childhood injuries… and a bumpy school career. »

Take Alexander, who is now 31 years old. At 15, he ended up running away from a home where his parents were alcoholics and violent. He ended up living in an apartment with his 17-year-old older sister. The two children were never reported to the DPJ: they were absolutely alone in all of this. In such a context, we suspect that the school results were not quite there.

“I was told all my life that I had no ability for school, that I was going to work with my hands,” says Alexandre. When he leaves home, he also leaves school. Years later, he found himself at Déclic.

Alexandre is currently finishing his secondary 5 and preparing to enter CEGEP.

Quite frankly, his story is heartbreaking.

Like that of many of these young people who, through traumatic experiences in schools, have become practically allergic to school. Take Judy, 19. Four years ago, she was living in a rehabilitation center. He was given a choice: school, work or Click. She chose Déclic, because she was given a small salary to participate in the Parcours program.

On the first day, she was in front of the adult school building where Déclic is located, in her grandmother’s car. Panicked, she didn’t want to go out. “As soon as I saw the school, I was like, no, I’m leaving…”

On the first day, the anxiety was such that she was only able to stay in the room for an hour with the rest of the group.

“A worker regularly came to ask me if I was okay. When things were bad, I went out with her. “Are you planning to come back tomorrow?” asked the speaker at the end of the day. “If you’re here, I’ll be back tomorrow,” Judy replied.

On the second day, she was able to stay on the premises for a few hours. And on the third day, it was gone. She tripped with the group, where three out of five young people were housed in a rehabilitation center. She keeps unforgettable memories.

Do you see why the folks at Click go to great lengths to outfit their premises so that it doesn’t look like a school? In the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve service point, we have taken over the former premises of a designer. Heated concrete floors, nice sofa – donated – at the entrance, light smell of eucalyptus… It feels like entering the premises of a young techno shoot. The contrast is total with the decrepit premises of several schools…

Today, Judy works in a factory. She has a good job. She lives with her husband, who has children. Every day, she tells them how important school is.

“Clic, it made me tolerate school. »

Stéphanie Desnoyers-Dubé will remember it all her life, from the end of her Focus program at Déclic. For 16 weeks, the young people had been equipped with cameras and computers. They had real photography lessons. They were given photographic challenges. And then, at the end, there was a vernissage of their works.

“They had our photos printed in large format, they were on lighted easels… It was beautiful. We felt important. It was an accomplishment. During all these weeks, we felt considered, unconditionally loved, “says the young woman who is now 30 years old… and has always kept in touch with the people of Déclic.

When she arrived at the organization, Stéphanie had just left the rehabilitation center. She had done all the circuit of the DPJ, foster family, group home, rehabilitation center. Fifteen places in four years. She mutilated herself, had fits, and, every Christmas, she had to be transferred to a security center because she had dark thoughts and sometimes acted out. “I was very picky. »

At the center, she had inherited the borderline personality disorder label. “A catch-all diagnosis. When she left, she was constantly on the move, unable to keep a job or a home for more than a few months. After years of annual moves to his mother, then 15 moves in 4 years in the centers, “instability had become [his] way of life”.

So for her, 16 weeks of Focus was big. Very big.

Stephanie finished Secondary 5 with an average of over 90%. She did two DEPs. She lives with her partner in the suburbs. They have two children, in addition to his wife’s son. And, slight detail: Stephanie did not have a borderline personality disorder at all. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, gifted.

To think that at 18, when she left the center, she was de facto registered on social assistance…

It is by offering young people programs like the one that saved Stéphanie that Déclic manages to unlock their potential. Parcours, Phoenix, Focus, the names differ but the principle is the same: a certain number of weeks, a concrete project, workshops, a small salary.

Printing t-shirts, making soap, food services for organizations, “pay it forward” type operations, repair shops… “It’s an exploration laboratory, sums up Benoît Bernier. The goal is to provide them with a positive learning experience in a caring environment. »

Returning to school is not necessarily an immediate goal for the 250 young people helped each year. “Sometimes the journey to school can take a year, two years,” says Bernier. We never impose anything. The groups are carefully formed, supported by three facilitators for eight young people.

Zoe, 19, was part of the group Phoenix last March. The youngster left school at 16 to work. After a plethora of jobs, she wanted to go back to school. “I toughed out three days in adult school. Along with the other participants in Phoenix, she visited the construction trades school in her first week in the program. “I tripped! My plan A is construction. My plan B is trucker. »

At the Fab Lab in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, a kind of kingdom of the modern patenteur, Zoé listens to the animator explain how the 3D printer works, the laser wood cutting machine… She discovers a world. Every day, she travels several hours by public transport to and from Déclic. “They’re super smart, they help us, sign up, they do it in a snap.” »

Some young people start from much further than zero. “I’ve already taught handshake lessons,” laughs Isabelle Breault.

Every day, Isabelle Breault hosts “Déclic salons” in the group’s premises, which are adjacent to an adult education center. A kind of safe space for young people, where they can decompress.

Today, the workshop is about writing a slam. She makes them listen to a slam by David Goudreault, who talks about violence against women. The ten or so young people on the spot hang on the lips of the slammer, as if frozen in place. Some react more than others. One of the boys leaves, obviously, the talk was too hard to take.

Déclic also offers individual psychosocial follow-ups, essential with such a clientele. “How can you be available to learn when you’re struggling to survive? Impossible, said Mr. Bernier. We try to make the young person available, we tackle his drug addiction problems, we help him apply for social assistance, we even have a lawyer for housing problems. »

Alexe Piché is a follow-up worker. She has carte blanche to intervene with young people. She can go grocery shopping with them, show them how to make their supper.

Billy benefited from all these services. He has participated in Parcours twice, in Phoenix last spring, and is receiving individual follow-up. The 19-year-old has a very difficult life: his mother has been suffering from cancer since he was 15 years old. His father works. The two children often find themselves caring for mom.

Billy is dyspraxic, he also has dyscalculia. He attended a special school all his schooling: his transition to adult education was also disastrous. It almost “crashed” permanently during the pandemic.

His time at Déclic was his lifeline: a place where the door opens, and never closes. “Here, we are like a kind of small family. »

The study on the future of young people in care (EDJEP), carried out in 2020 with a cohort of 1,000 young people who had left the services of the DPJ, sounded the alarm about the poor education of young people housed in resources of the DYP. Barely a quarter of young people in accommodation managed to obtain a secondary school diploma at the age of 19, compared to 80% of young people who had no experience of social services. The study concluded that schooling was often relegated to the background in rehabilitation centres.

Imagine a school, brand new, that does not look like a school. Specialized services would be offered to young people riddled with problems to enable them to actualize their academic potential. This school would be accompanied by a residence, where students in need could obtain low-cost housing and quality food services.

This tailor-made school could be an incredible springboard for 130 young people in great difficulty, whose future is otherwise very bleak. This is the dream of Benoît Bernier and Sonia Lombart. It would cost $65 million to build, then $5 million a year to operate. A peanut, on the scale of the gigantic education budget.

“This school would be a laboratory”, summarizes Benoît Bernier, where we could notably test innovative formulas for vocational training. A mentoring approach, for example, where the young person is paired with a professional and learns by working alongside him.

The two social entrepreneurs went around to sell their project, called Campus Agora. “Everyone supports us, from the Conseil du patronat to the big shelters,” sums up Benoît Bernier.

But it doesn’t happen. Because the project, out of the ordinary, does not fit into the boxes of state funding.

For 30 years, Sonia Lombart and Benoît Bernier have tried hard to work with the school system where their clients find themselves, adult education. Real name: general adult education (FGA). But they can’t take the “adult education hole” anymore.

General adult education is a disaster, they diagnose. Yet the government sinks $435 million into it every year.

The system, initially created for adults who return to school to acquire additional training, has turned into a siding for students in difficulty, who come directly from the youth sector after a disastrous school career. .

“It’s the most difficult clientele who sign up for adults, dropouts who hang up and drag serious problems with them. … and we have the least suitable structure,” summarizes Mr. Bernier. “Adult education has become an extension of everything that is wrong with our system…with very, very few resources,” adds Joanie Lalonde, resource teacher at Déclic. “The FGA has become a parallel school system, where we don’t have the resources or the expertise to help young people,” confirms Égide Royer.

Across Quebec, no less than 30,000 young people aged 16 to 19 attend adult establishments, and the proportion of students who have learning or mental health problems is staggering, says Mr. Royer. If we add young people aged 20 to 24, the “young” enrollment in adult education reaches almost 40% of the total of 144,000 students enrolled in 2021-2022, according to figures from the Ministry of Education.

You should know that these establishments for adults practically do not give lectures. Students complete independent learning modules in class. A teacher sits at the front of the class, available to answer questions upon request.

In short, the teachers do not teach, have no class management to do… “Many are there because they believe they have the best working conditions in the network!” says Joanie Lalonde.

Despite this clientele severely handicapped by learning problems, a very small proportion of these teachers have training in special education. Similarly, very few specialists are available in establishments that offer general education to adults. Across Quebec, a total of 240 people have special education or specialist training. On a workforce of more than 5,500 teachers, this is the equivalent of a drop in the ocean.

As a result, the FGA’s popularity is in steep decline. The 165 establishments have gone from 174,000 students in 2017 to 144,000 five years later, a drop of 20%. The dropout rate is high: almost a third of students (27%) do not achieve their objectives and do not re-enroll the following year.

When the student suffers from dyslexia or dysorthographia, “it’s a sure failure,” says Benoît Bernier. “And the tragedy is that the student will therefore convince himself that he is not capable,” adds Sonia Lombart. Especially since the adaptive measures from which the student benefited in the youth sector do not generally follow in the adults.

Surviving the “hole” therefore becomes almost mission impossible.

Do you know organizations or people in the regions who support public networks and make a difference in the lives of certain clienteles in Quebec?