February 14, 2018

Learning how to persevere

Six feet, four inches… 245 pounds. Oumar Touré is quite the physical specimen. But it’s not only the fullback’s size that makes you take notice. A graduate of the Université de Sherbrooke, Oumar’s journey has been, shall we say… a little different. As a youngster, he dreamt of becoming a professional soccer player, but life had other plans in store for him. When Oumar was nine years old, he left Senegal with his family to set foot in Gatineau for the first time. Goodbye European training camps. Hello fierce Quebec winters. And this wouldn’t be the last time that Oumar left his comfort zone. Many years later, just a few months ahead of the CFL draft, the fullback made the sacrifice of switching over to receiver to help his Sherbrooke Vert et Or teammates.

But this is not the story of Oumar Touré. It is the story of all the high school students who will be touched this winter by listening to people like Oumar. Since 1998, the Alouettes ​“Together at School” program has promoted academic perseverance by encouraging students to make informed decisions as well as to put maximum importance on their studies. Over the past 20 years, more than 75,000 students have had the opportunity to hear how great men, all holders of university degrees, have successfully reached sporting and professional peaks despite facing obstacles along the way.

Today, that mission continues. On January 30, close to 175 students from Polyvalente Poly-Jeunesse welcomed Oumar Touré. More than half of the students were from special education classes. And 50 were members of the Loups, the school’s football team. According to Frédéric Desbiens, vice-principal at Polyvalente Poly-Jeunesse, the effect Oumar had on all the students, especially the school’s football players, was undeniable. “Even if they are reminded of it daily, the students come to really understand the importance of taking their studies seriously thanks to hearing from people like Oumar. Everyone has their own unique story, but if we work hard and persevere, we can achieve all sorts of things. It is important to believe in your potential and to take the necessary steps to achieve that potential.

Happily, the school dropout rate in Montreal is falling: It has dropped from 24.6% in 2009 to 18.1% in 2014. Even with that notable decrease, however, the Réseau Réussite Montréal feels the situation in the metropolitan area remains a concern. The regional organization dedicated to increasing retention rates in Montreal-area schools since 2009 has said it will be impossible to reach the province’s graduation objective (set at 80% in 2020 by Quebec’s Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur) without reducing the school dropout rate.

Taking action in susceptible neighbourhoods, encouraging collaboration among the various relevant organizations and adapting to the needs of at-risk students are all part of the concepts put forth by Réseau Réussite Montréal. Hearing from some football-playing giants might not be a traditional way of doing things, but it’s an effective way of reaching students who might be losing their motivation. “There are students who drop out because they experience academic difficulties, but there are others who drop out for more personal reasons, such as because they endured a difficult event, for example. We encourage the players to talk about the obstacles they personally had to face in order to complete their education before then taking the next step in their lives,” said Benoit Landry, local action strategic coordinator with Réseau Réussite Montréal. “Children from different cultural communities need positive adult role models with whom they can identify with. Hearing from the players is one of several important measures that needs to be presented.”

Before standing in front of the students, the players have to know what – and who – they are dealing with. At the beginning of the year, the 10 players who are participating in the program were instructed by Mr. Landry regarding the unique Montreal context, as well as obtaining a clear picture of the type of student who tends to drop out and learn why it is that some students persevere while others do not. However, the learning does not stop there. While the goal is to reach out to students, many players have also said that they have grown personally as well. “I arrived at my first visit with the intention to talk about my challenges, to discuss subjects that allow students to understand certain things, but ultimately, it was me who left that day with more experience,” Oumar said after the event at Polyvalente Poly-Jeunesse.
The author B. J. Gupta said hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but it improves its chances. That’s the message the Alouettes want to convey this year to high school students. There’s no guarantee our efforts will lead to success, but…


The “Together at School” program’s primary goal is to encourage academic perseverance among Quebec’s high school students. In 2018, a total of 10 players will be visiting 60 schools throughout the province. Their objective is to inform students that the effort they’ll put towards their education will ultimately be rewarded. The official launch of this year’s 2018 tour is Thursday, February 15 in conjunction with the Hooked on School Days at Antoine-de-Saint-Exupéry High School in Saint-Léonard. Patrick Boivin, several Alouettes players, the Alouettes cheerleaders and Touché the mascot will all be in attendance.

To learn more about the “Together at School” program as well as the Alouettes community activities, click here.