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A look into Centennial Academy, a unique school in Quebec
A look into Centennial Academy, a unique school in Quebec

Centennial Academy was founded in 1969 by a group of teachers who believed they could do more for kids with learning challenges. Five decades later, the school claims it has now become a leader in helping students succeed, even beyond academics. Its graduation rate is 90 per cent in the standard five years of high school. The provincial rate is 75 per cent.

“We’re applying the principles of Universal Design for Learning, and that’s really looking at: ‘OK, if it works for one child, can it work for two — can it work for the whole class?’” the head of Centennial Academy Angela Burgos said.

Besides educating students, staff focus on teaching effective learning behaviours. For example, getting organized and prioritizing — things that are usually difficult for these students who suffer from a range of learning challenges including ADHD or autism.

“We have cubicles, and every week, we’ll go organize it,” said Maya, a student. “All our binders are different colours and it’s been the same way since Grade 10.” That predictability and order helps create life skills that ultimate make students become more independent.

The school uses different tools and strategies. One method that has really helped is through learning-behaviour coaches. Kids who are not in a good learning space, head over to what they call a level room, where they get help to focus their energy.

Parents believe the school’s approach has made a world of difference in their lives. “They do stuff now on their own, which I never thought they were going to be capable of doing. I don’t have to sit and be that helicopter parent anymore,” said mother-of-two Sharyn Hoppenheim.

The school will have to move buildings for the next school year. For some of these students, change can be difficult. But parents and the school are confident the move will be a smooth transition. The school is in fact, planning to expand. They are opening a French sector this year for Grades 7 and 8, and are hoping to gradually add more classes.