The pandemic has had major and lasting repercussions on the at-risk teens in our community. To counter the effects, we have doubled down on what has been key to much of our past success: building strong bonds with our youth and their families.
The pandemic has greatly exacerbated problems
We have observed increased isolation and low-levels of engagement among the students in our community. Depression and anxiety are on the rise among teens in our region anda recent study from Université de Sherbrooke and Melissa Généreux, lead medical advisor for CIUSSS Estrie found that the increase is even greater among anglophones than francophones in the area. As a result dropout rates are reported to be higher as reported by the Journal de Québec. They gathered figures from 44 centres de services scolaires across the province that suggest thedropout rate in parts of Quebec may have increased by 30% in the last three years.
Our students need us more than ever
These concerns were no longer anecdotal but became a very real problem with the red flag raised to us by the Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB). Phelps Helps was recently invited to join a crisis task force targeting 12 to 17 year olds in response to an appeal by the principal and teachers of Alexander Galt Regional High School. Together, they have highlighted a systemic problem of a severe lack of engagement from their Stanstead-area students and signs of a profound disconnect with typical societal structures and norms.
Administrators and teachers are contending with high levels of:
Mental health issues
Bullying, cyberbullying and physical alterations
Oppositional defiance and extreme distrust of institutions
The isolated location of Stanstead paired with the challenge of intergenerational trauma and learned behaviours exacerbates existing problems. As cited in the mental health of teens study, psychological health has declined since 2021 with at least 50% of the sample of 12 to 25 year olds having shown signs of anxiety or moderate to severe depression and 1 out of 4 having had suicidal or self-harm thoughts. In short, many of our young people are in crisis.
Our plan to motivate disillusioned teens
To support youth who are facing monumental challenges and get them back on track academically, Phelps Helps has a plan. While attendance at our High School Tutoring Program is key to boosting academic success, we must first establish trust and instill hope through outreach initiatives. The following steps will allow us to forge meaningful and sustainable bonds with at-risk youth.
A Phelps Helps presence in schools every week: We host a weekly lunch gathering at Alexander Galt that welcomes Stanstead-area students. This social hangout — which includes cooking together, board games or watching a movie — allows us to make vital, regular face-to-face contact with students. The get-togethers reinforce our connections with kids and provide them with habitual reminders to attend Phelps Helps after-school tutoring sessions. Our presence in schools also allows us to interface directly with teachers, counsellors and principals. Fluid and candid communications with schools allow us to better follow up and check in on students’ challenges and needs. Additionally, our presence in schools allow us to assist other Stanstead service providers to make inroads within schools.
Focus on mentorship: Positive role models can powerfully impact teens in at-risk situations. The mentor-mentee relationship rebuilds confidence that has been shattered and resets perspectives that have turned pessimistic. Importantly, mentees are reminded that they are not alone — that others care about their wellbeing and success. To reach our youth, quality mentorship doesn’t have to be formal. It can occur unexpectedly — through a conversation on a bus ride or over a snack at a social gathering. To boost all our mentorship initiatives, we will be leading a range of relationship-building activities, including:
PED day outings such as a Halloween La Ronde outing
Year-long activities like community parties and family days
Activities that focus on the critical transition between elementary and high school (grade 6 to 7) and the transition out of high school (grade 11 and after). Mentorship also allows us to make referrals to other community partners, such as Grands Frères Grandes Soeurs de l’Estrie and Mental Health Estrie.
Encourage after-school and out-of-school opportunities: Our disadvantaged students lack day-to-day experiences that are vital to their development. Activities outside a school environment allow teens to challenge themselves and experiment free from the pressures of grades and exams. They uncover passions and talents they may never have even known about. After-school opportunities improve social behaviour, leadership and teamwork, all of which are foundational to improving academics. Phelps Helps will focus on ensuring our youth gain more experiences outside the home and school environments. Opportunities with Phelps Helps or with other organizations will include:
Phelps Helps weekly two-hour physical activity for teens. Pickup basketball, soccer, floor-hockey and a smoothie bar offer teens a healthy means to connect and blow off steam.
Phelps Helps homework programs
Phelps Helps career building programs (Compass)
Youth Advisory Committee with Y4Y Québec , a non-profit organization and partner of Phelps Helps that addresses issues facing English-speaking youth across Quebec.
Community sports and recreation (including karate and hockey)
Volunteer opportunities at community events
We’re committed to setting our kids up for success
Outreach is vital to connecting opportunity to young people’s potential. By recognizing that every community has potential, we are committed to creating the building blocks that allow our participants to access opportunity and cultivate the skills that support resilience. We provide a secure and calm space with healthy food, a team of 10 engaged employees and carefully selected volunteers. Altogether we have put forth a strong group of adults who are not only learning facilitators but who will be able to forge meaningful connections with our disenchanted Stanstead youth.
The trust we have built within the community uniquely positions us to bridge the gap between the school boards, our young people and their families to work together on the foundations for a life of autonomy for our participants helping them to recognize that they have the ability to succeed.