Education differently: visit to Le Vitrail alternative school

The Network of Democratic Schools in Quebec held its conference on January 20 and 21. On this occasion, we were able to visit the alternative school Le Vitrail.

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Our Network of democratic schools in Quebec held its conference on January 20 and 21. On this occasion, we were able visit the alternative school Le Vitrail.

The Network of Democratic Schools in Quebec (REDAQ) was holding his 2017 conference January 20 and 21. The first day made it possible to visit different learning centers. The second day offered lectures at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQÀM).

Today is a little preview of our visit to Le Vitrail alternative school. Tomorrow we will see different types of schools that are members of this particular network.

What is an “alternative school”?

Alternative schools are located halfway between the "traditional" school and more eccentric forms of schooling. The site of the Network of Alternative Public Schools of Quebec (RÉPAQ) provides a lot of information on the subject, of which here is a short summary.

The idea of an alternative school is based on the humanist pedagogical thought advocated by Socrates: respect for the child's personality and a deep bond between the teacher and his pupil. This is not new, but still seems very current. In Quebec, the first “new schools” were created in 1955 and 1969. Moreover, the first alternative public school, Jonathan research school, opened in 1974.

Three particular characteristics of these schools are:

  • the classes are multi-age;
  • a democratic system involves parents as co-educators and co-managers;
  • the school respects the pace of student learning rather than imposing it.

There are 35 alternative public schools in Quebec, spread over 16 school boards and several regions.

These schools are most of the time created by a community of parents who want to offer their children an educational environment based on humanist values. The RÉPAQ site even offers a Guide to the creation and approval process of an alternative school.

A visit to École Le Vitrail, Montreal School Board

École Le Vitrail (c) Ninon Louise Lepage
Le Vitrail School (c) Ninon Louise Lepage

Le Vitrail school, inaugurated in September 2015, is the only alternative school in the network that covers the primary and secondary sectors. About a hundred elementary school students and as many in secondary school study there. It is a multi-age concept where children from 5 to 18 years old develop their skills and build their knowledge in contact with each other.

There, while waiting for the visit to depart, I spoke with some teenage girls who were knitting in the art room. This school project in which all the pupils - boys and girls - take part, consists of knitting woolen checks on time to surround the four trees in front of the school next spring. An original way to create a feeling of belonging to the community of your school!

In primary school, pupils are grouped into two main levels: one corresponds to the classes of the first, second and third year, the other for the pupils of the fourth, fifth and sixth year. Primary school students work in real classrooms, very spacious and open.

In secondary school, a dozen students of various ages are associated with a teacher-tutor who follows them throughout their course. This group meets every other day to plan work objectives. This approach creates connections that do not exist in a traditional school. In addition, high school students are encouraged to do volunteer periods with elementary school students, which encourages fraternity among the school's students.

Co-education: a fundamental principle

Co-education is a fundamental principle of this school. Parents are not only volunteers who collaborate in certain tasks assigned by the establishment. They join the learning community and each contributes according to what they can and choose… For example, helping with robotics or managing cooking workshops, taking students to visit a particular site, or coming half way. day a week tutoring math. Of course, integrating parents in this way is demanding for teachers, because they often have to be "coached" so that they can make the best use of their skills within the framework of the school's educational project.

The administration, gymnasium and art room, premises where students can come to work when they are free, occupy the ground floor. The primary occupies the first floor and the secondary occupies the second. The premises are often spacious and allow several students to work side by side, to work as a team. There are also smaller premises. Students occupy them in small groups or alone when they want a quieter space. They can also meet a teacher or their tutor there.

There is almost a male / female parity among teachers. Secondary school teachers are specialists in their subject as in a traditional secondary school.

An atypical schedule

École Le Vitrail (c) Ninon Louise Lepage
Le Vitrail School (c) Ninon Louise Lepage

Every morning at Le Vitrail school, everyone starts the day with 35 minutes of physical activity of their choice, outdoors or in the gym.

Learning through interdisciplinary projects carried out in teams, often in multi-age groups, is encouraged. The disciplines prescribed by the training program of the Quebec school are integrated into it.

For example, students work on collective projects such as robotics. As such, the WOLVES team (LeVitrail Ose Unir Persévérance et Savoir) has been participating in the FIRST robotics competition since 2012.

See also the LOVE project, which aims to promote non-violence.

Some thematic workshops are also planned during the year according to the needs expressed by the students and teachers.

Each student has a schedule where the compulsory courses in French, math, science, second language, physical education, etc. are registered, which corresponds to approximately 20 % of the time. There are about twenty students per class during these lessons. The rest of the time, the students are free to organize their schedule. They can occupy it with open learning periods (poa), carry out certain assignments, work on their project, meet a teacher for a period of tutoring, etc.

The school also offers a day care service and a host of extracurricular activities and educational outings.

An AVAN digital policy

As for the use of digital technology, the school has a “Bring your digital device” (AVAN) policy, to which the principal, Ms. Geneviève Tremblay, finds advantages and disadvantages.

The cooperative governance of the school facilitates the application of rules for the use of these devices. They were democratically developed by the students in collaboration with the school team.

A school not for everyone

A happy high school student and her father share their thoughts during the school visit. “This type of school is not for everyone,” they say. Some students find it difficult to manage such a degree of freedom. They need more structure. This kind of school is not made for directive parents, ambitious who aim above all for social success and attach less importance to the development and individual success of their child. "


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During my visit, I was particularly surprised at the order and calm that reign in this school, while more than 200 children aged 5 to 18 move from one room to another depending on the moment, attend some courses or work with remarkable seriousness in their respective tasks. Impressive!




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About the Author

Ninon Louise Lepage
Ninon Louise Lepage
Ninon Louise LePage is a pedagogue and museologist who recently came out of premature retirement to be reborn as an educational designation. She has taught at the Université du Québec à Montréal and the Université de Sherbrooke in science education, in addition to working at the Canadian Heritage Information Network as a museology consultant. She also writes for our French friends at Ludomag. She also invites all interested to contact her so that she can talk about you, your students, your school and your particular experiences in digital and computer education.

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