New suspension program helps students get back on track

A new suspension program at the Wellington Catholic District School Board is helping students stay out of trouble.

They teamed up with the local YMCA to offer an alternative.

"Young people who come through our program tend to fare better than those that don’t get that opportunity," said Andrew Borrelli, director of development with YMCA Quebec.

The program started more than 20 years ago in Quebec and recently expanded into Ontario, with schools in Guelph and Northumberland County participating.

"[Students] are getting that opportunity to just look within themselves, set goals for themselves of how to kind of stop behaviours that are happening," said Michelle Fischer, the community youth initiative supervisor with YMCA of Three Rivers.

Instead of a suspended student spending the three to five days at home, students get paired up with a YMCA youth worker who offers tailored supports to meet the needs of the students.

"Those workshops can range from topics of anger management, responsibility and motivations, substance misuse and education," said Borelli.

When the suspension period is over, there’s a reintegration meeting to help the student get back into the classroom.

"It doesn’t just end after those five days," said Fischer. "We’re still working alongside them and hoping to support them."

Since September 2021, more than 40 students between the ages of 12 to 17 within the Wellington Catholic District School Board have gone through the program. The board said it has a 92 per cent success rate.

"Ninety-two per cent of those who participate have not been suspended again or have not faced discipline again at school," said Michelle Sawa, the superintendent of education with the board. "With support and a second chance, we all learn and students learn too."

Parents whose children have gone through the program are also pleased with the outcomes.

They sent testimonials about the program to CTV News:

"What a wonderful program the YMCA offers for students who require support to better understand their mistakes and gain strategies to assist them in the future. The re-entry meeting with YMCA at school was a very supportive process and never did we feel that the purpose was punitive," wrote one parent.

Another family member said: "Having a welcoming environment outside of school was most beneficial for my child and our family. Also, having the YMCA staff helping my child with their school work and involved in workshops from a third party lens was very important to us."

"The YMCA offers my child what the school and as parents we can not provide when on suspension. It is not helpful for my family as a whole to have my child stay home during suspension, it causes more stress on my family. The YMCA is not just helping students, this program helps families," a third parent wrote.

The program is partially funded through private grants and government funding. Scotiabank has also contributed $2.15 million for new sites across the country. 

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