by JULIE CADIEUX
ST. LAZARE — This afternoon, 62 students attending Westwood Junior High’s Secondary I class (7th grade) will receive brand-new Mac laptops as part of a Lester B. Pearson School Board pilot project aimed at increasing the success rate at the board’s secondary schools.
Although LBPSB’s graduation rate is higher than the provincial target, The Matrix program is one of several initiatives introduced this 2011-2012 school year by the LBPSB to further decrease the dropout rate, especially among boys. According to education ministry stats, there’s a 10-point difference (88 percent vs. 78 percent) in the graduation rates of girls and boys attending LBPSB schools.
Other benefits for the board include a reduced dependency on textbooks and hard-copy material as well as a greater latitude among teachers to tap into online learning tools. The goal, according to the LBPSB’s 2010 partnership agreement with the ministry, is to integrate the laptops into the high school curriculum for the duration of the student’s secondary career.
The computers aren’t free. The cost to parents is $500 a year for three years, with the laptops remaining the property of LBPSB until the third year, at which time parents can purchase the laptops for $1.
Nor is The Matrix program just about laptops. “We need to have good grades and do volunteering to stay in the program,” one nervous 7th grader admits. In fact, according to the ‘Student Expectations’ contract sent home with Matrix students on the second day of school, which both student and parent are required to sign, Matrix students are expected to have a “positive and cooperative attitude” while achieving a minimum 75 percent average in English, Math, Science and Sciences Humaines.
They are also called upon to perform 10 hours of community service, participate in at least one school athletic team and one school life activity. Not meeting these goals could result in a student being kicked out of the program.
“I’m proud of my son for getting in, but nervous too,” admitted one mom. “The first year of high school is a hard enough transition — it’s going to be a lot of work for all of us.”
Back in the fall of 2010, LBPSB offered parents of 6th grade elementary students the opportunity to register their child for an entrance exam to get their child into the program. The series of exams took place over several hours at Westwood Jr. last November, with many students leaving in tears. “It was intense,” remembers one student.
Westwood Jr., with 406 students, already had an enrichment program, but The Matrix is different with “computers for each student, increased responsibility and mandatory participation on a school team, in volunteer work and school life,” says Westwood Junior principal Hans Bulow.
“Certainly the required elements are not required in regular programs, and no doubt the laptops will be an extra tool for The Matrix students but it is the same program as the regular one, only more in depth, and more is expected,” Bulow added.
There’s pressure on school boards to deliver as well. According to the 2010 partnership agreement signed by the ministry and the board, the LBPSB has 10 years to increase its graduation rate to 88 percent from the current 80 percent.
“We have set our 2015 graduation and qualification rate target at 85.5 percent with 2 percent of this increase coming from the youth sector and 1 percent coming from the adult/vocational education sector,” the board notes in the agreement.
It can’t be done without graduating more boys, it adds.
The Hudson St-Lazare Gazette, Julie Cadieux, September 7th, 2011