Across Quebec each school year, thousands of student-athletes, including a number of gifted Aboriginals, take part in the Sport-Études program run by the Quebec Ministry of Education and various sports leagues and associations across the province.
No such program has ever been offered in Eeyou Istchee – until now.
With the start of school in September, the Waskaganish Sports Academy rolled into operation.
The brainchild of Waskaganish Recreation Director Charles J. Hester and Joel Brooks, a recent graduate of University of Waterloo, where he developed the Sports Academy concept during his university co-op studies in Wemindji, the Waskaganish Sports Academy has an ambitious mission.
Its aim is to provide the resources necessary through community organizations, schools, parent groups and social-service agencies to create and implement innovative programming for the advancement and achievement of today’s youth.
The Sports Academy is driven to promote healthy lifestyle choices and support students with their educational career to encourage a successful transition into adulthood with the best opportunity to succeed.
Simply put, the academy is designed to improve young students’ attendance, school participation and overall wellbeing.
Currently, the Sports Academy is focusing on children in Grades 3 through 6. However, the objective is to offer the concepts to all students, from young children up to and including high-school students.
“It is a traditional Sports-Études program,” said Brooks.
Because most Sports-Études programs are offered in larger cities and communities, Cree students who have qualified for Sports-Études, such as Hester’s son Alexander, who attended school in Amos last year while playing hockey with the Forestiers d’Amos, must leave their hometown in order to have the opportunity.
“We want to provide kids with the same opportunity at home,” said Brooks. “We work with the minor hockey and sports associations in Waskaganish.
“The bar for Sports-Études is very high. Right now, this is a basic introduction to that kind of program. At this point, we want to encourage school involvement, attendance, punctuality, good behaviour, getting homework done, and we reward the kids with sports they are interested in, for those who are doing well in those areas,” said Brooks.
Currently, there are 101 students in Grades 3 through 6 participating in Sports Academy programs. Students are broken into two groups (Grades 3 and 4, and Grades 5 and 6). On alternating weeks, each group participates in Sports Academy activities for one hour a day. To maintain their place in the program, students must demonstrate hard work in the classroom.
“If a kid is not doing well or not participating in the program, we need to ask ourselves why,” said Brooks. “What is holding the kids back from attending school, being on time, getting homework done. Over time we can learn what challenges the student is facing. We can talk with teachers, and do what we have to do to improve the student’s chances of success.”
Brooks looks forward to extending the Sports Academy to high-school students in Waskaganish and to other communities in Eeyou Istchee.
“Getting high-school students involved will be very important for the Sports Academy,” explained Brooks. “Not only will older students benefit from the programs we will provide, but they can also serve as role models for the younger students, getting them more involved in both sports and school.
“We hope to be able to extend the Sports Academy to other communities; we are talking about that right now.”
The Waskaganish Sports Academy does not yet offer the same elite level student-athlete programs as the provincial Sports-Études program; gifted Cree student-athletes still need to leave home to pursue those opportunities.
However, if initiatives like the Sports Academy raise the bar on student participation in the classroom, resulting in better grades, better behaviour and improved lifestyles for Cree children, it will be an excellent step forward for education in Eeyou Istchee.
For more information on the Sports Academy, visit their facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Sports-Academy-Waskaganish.