High Schools Uncategorized

Sports-études fuels transformation of Louis-Riel high

From a past where cultures clashed and students struggled academically, Louis-Riel high school is a much different place nowadays, and many credit the sports-études program as the catalyst for the revitalization. Photo: Dan Plouffe

By Dan Plouffe

This past spring, the first set of students that went through the Louis-Riel sports-études program from Grade 7 through to Grade 12 graduated from the French public high school.

And as a new generation takes over in the highly successful initiative that combines athletics with academics, they are now part of a school that’s experienced a dramatic change in less than a decade.

One of Ontario’s top-30 academic schools based on provincial testing, students say there’s a family atmosphere in the hallways at Louis-Riel.

“There’s a lot of chemistry,” explains Grade 10 senior girls’ basketball player Ashley Polacek. “We consider ourselves like brothers and sisters.”

It wasn’t always that way. Today’s Louis-Riel is in stark contrast to the place a 2006 graduate remembers.

“There was definitely truth to Louis-Riel\’s ‘rough’ image,” the former student explains by e-mail. “There were always fights breaking out in the hallways, threats during recess and vandalism of people\’s things.”

A few incidents stick out in her memory – a gang of kids throwing a brick through a friend’s car window, and a girl coming to class with scratches all over her face from a lunch-hour fight. Racism was also “a big problem” then – between black and white students, plus between others of different origins around the world.

“They were always at each other’s throats trying to prove who was better,” the grad recalls. “There is this saying that a lot of my friends agree with (not including me): ‘I was not racist, but Louis-Riel made me racist.’”


In 2003, Gisèle-Lalonde high school opened at the southeastern tip of Orleans, which changed Louis-Riel from a jam-packed overpopulated school into one that was well below capacity in its aging Blackburn Hamlet community.

With hopes of bringing in students from outside its traditional zone, a big reason why the sports-study program came to life was simply to keep the school from shutting down due to low enrolment numbers.

In its first year, around 80 participants signed up for the program that involves regular class in the morning, a study support period after lunch and then an hour of sports training in the afternoon.

“I was already starting to see a change in the school throughout the first year of the program,” says the graduate whose senior year was the sports-études program’s first. “It was starting to have a big influence on everyone\’s behaviour because the school was cracking down to be able to improve their image to boost registration for sports-études.”


Ken Levesque, the coordinator of the Louis-Riel sports-études program, acknowledges that the school battled, and still battles, image problems. But he believes “most of those stereotypes were not founded” and suggests they may take root “being next to Orleans where not all the schools have a multi-ethnical background” like Louis-Riel.

The school may have “underperformed” academically in the past, but Levesque notes it is now the region’s top-ranked Francophone school in provincial testing.

The approximately 235 students in the sports-études program – close to half the school’s total population for Grade 9-12 – can take a big part of the credit for the improved results since they must maintain an average above 70% to stay in the program.

“It just shows that if you invest time and energy into a sports program that you believe in, it will help the kids,” explains Levesque, who also has another 135 sports-exploratoires participants in Grade 7-8. “I think every school should have a program like this. We attract good students and we attract nice families here. It’s a nice little community to learn in.”

Interacting in a less cramped space and being sports teammates has helped ease tensions that may have been problematic in the past, Levesque highlights, adding that many athletes stay out of trouble by devoting loads of their after-school time to scholastic teams or community club activities.


For many students at Louis-Riel, the gym is their hang out place once the school day ends. At a senior girls’ basketball game, it’s easy to find members of other Louis-Riel teams in the stands cheering them on.

“It’s always fun and there’s a lot of laughs. We’re very close together and everybody knows everybody,” describes Rebelles junior boys’ basketball player Nicolas Kouagio.

“My brother used to go to this school – he’s 10 years older than me – and he says there’s a big difference,” adds the member of the defending city champions. “It’s a better school, there’s better teachers, better students, and our grades are going up. It’s a good atmosphere. It’s completely changed.”
This past spring, the first set of students that went through the Louis-Riel sports-études program from Grade 7 through to Grade 12 graduated from the French public high school.

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