Thriving at Place Cartier

by Dan Mullins

The Thrive program at Place Cartier’s Beaconsfield building was launched in the 2020-2021 school year, and immediately began… well, thriving.

There is a palpable sense of enthusiasm, energy, and community within the Thrive classrooms. It isn’t entirely clear whether it is emanating from teachers Stéphanie Blanchfield and Stephanie Heguy, Consultant Matthew Kennedy, and Special Education Technician Elizabeth Quesnel, or from the students, or the school itself. Whatever its source, everyone is a conduit or amplifier.

One day in early October the students were arranged at rows of desks, chatting with each other and asking questions of their teachers while busily counting out school supplies and placing them in groups for distribution to different classrooms.

“Take one bag, but if it’s got markers, that’s an Endeavour bag, not a Science bag,” said Ms. Blanchfield, using her teacher voice. Then she explained, more quietly, that their student Jalyn had been doing a stage (as in internship) at Provigo Kirkland as a stock handler, when the manager asked him “can you take a donation?”

The program found itself in charge of distributing a large volume of school supplies to the Place Cartier’s classrooms and programs. It was an activity that hadn’t been planned and for which time had not been allotted. But students and staff alike were all smiles. There was no stress, just bustling activity. “It’s important that we model flexibility and adaptability to the students,” Ms. Blanchfield pointed out.

Thrive is Place Cartier’s Sociovocational Integration Program. During the two to three years they spend in the program (depending on a students’ needs,) students will complete 375 hours of stage, 75 hours of Sociovocational Integration courses, 200 hours of English, 100 hours of French, and 150 hours of Math courses.

To the extent possible, students also follow the Social Participation curriculum. Each student pursues a certificate in a specific semi-skilled trade (some examples: stock handler, recreation assistant, warehouse worker, hair salon attendant). Currently, about 16 of program’s 28 students are stagiaires.

Ms. Blanchfield is fond of the term “voluntold,” as in “Students are voluntold to participate in a variety of community projects,” a statement delivered with a smile. They have many community partners, including the West Island Mission and Moisson Montreal. Additionally, students may be voluntold to work on school-based projects like the Breakfast Club and Corn Roast.

The program’s students recently participated in the Tim Horton’s Smile Cookie campaign, along with students from Horizon High School. (You can read the complete article about that project in this month’s issue of the Pearson News here.)

Other than the first name Stephanie, Ms. Blanchfield and Ms. Heguy have other biographical similarities. Both previously worked at the West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped, and both chose to work in the Adult sector immediately afterwards. It is Ms. Blanchfield’s 9th year with the LBPSB, and Ms. Heguy’s 4th.

Clockwise from Top Left: Stéphanie Blanchfield, Stephanie Heguy, Elizabeth Quesnel and Matthew Kennedy

The program came about when Social Integration and Sociovocational Integration Consultant Matthew Kennedy decided that the good things happening at PACC’s SEED program needed a home in the West Island. Thrive began in 2020 with Ms. Blanchfield and 12 students, but within half a school year the group had doubled in size and Liz Quesnel came aboard.

The students in the Thrive program express happiness, and the staff give a strong impression that they know that what they are doing makes a difference. They are committed and trust one another. There is a virtuous spiral at play. “Gratitude is part of the school’s culture,” said Blanchfield — a culture to which the Thrive program undoubtedly contributes.

“Society sees a person with a disability and assumes that there are things they will never be able to have,” said Ms. Blanchfield, “We disagree.”

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