«They’re not bad kids. They’re good kids who need help. »
Une place pour eux, a documentary by Sabrina Hammoum, features an intimate visit to the Saint-François school. Located in Quebec City, it admits elementary and high school children from across the province that “nobody wants”, as one of the educators interviewed explains. Nobody wants them because they present academic lag and aggressive or disturbing behavior, most often the result of a serious affective disorder difficult to manage in regular schools with more students and fewer teachers in each class.
To observe the children’s progress during a school year, the film director plunges us several times in the raw routine of educators and teachers, more precisely every two months, partially in interview situation, most often in direct interaction with the children.
Mission and vision
«They’re not bad kids. They’re good kids who need help. » This is how one of the teachers explains the central premise of the school. And help, they offer plenty. She goes on: “No matter how you behave, we will always be there for you. We are here to help you. This is the message we are trying to send these children. Remember: although it is a school for children with disabilities or misadaptation, as they are commonly called, there is no question of “extirpating” deficit or misadjustment from children.
Saint-François school aims at another mission: to live with the discomfort and to manage it well, by learning to name their emotions and to establish strategies to channel their energy otherwise than by the violence. But, of course, it’s not just about dealing with discomfort. The goal is clearly also academic progress and, finally, with the help of social and intellectual work, reintegration into the regular educational system.
If, in other schools, the weaker children are often the object of mockery from other classmates, who in turn, suffer from the verbal and physical “outbursts” of the former, at the Saint-François school, “they are all the same in their differences” and can learn in a safe and relaxing space, adapted to their individual needs, which makes them feel at home. And the more comfortable you feel somewhere, the better you can learn. Logical, isn’t it?
How is this achieved?
But what are the strategies adopted by the local staff to achieve these goals? In observing classroom teaching, several things strike us straightaway: only a handful of children – and almost the same number of educators – attend the teacher’s course. In order to ensure the students’ attention, educators look after the well-being of the students by creating a relaxed atmosphere. One of the key concepts is massage therapy: in fact, throughout the course, the teachers massage the back and the head of the students.
The other basic idea: structuring the day into very short – but intense – phases of instruction given only to one or two children at the same time. And if one of them slips, he is accompanied in one of the “hives” – small separated rooms in the hallway – where the child rests for a few minutes to regain control or to let off steam by pedaling. At first glance, such isolation may be shocking, but if you take a closer look, you realize that this is not a punishment: as beehives are at the heart of the school, children are not are not isolated, but have the opportunity to find their calm in a kind of refuge. Hence the metaphor of the bees, that sometimes sting, but also offer us a huge wealth.
A good example
As a teacher, I know what are main challenges, but I am also aware of the debate about the separation of “problematic” children in specialized schools. Indeed, it is – at least in Europe – this solution is disputed by the followers of the principle of inclusive education, starting from the premise that by putting together all children, the “normal” and those with special needs, all will benefit because latter will not be isolated, and the former develop, among other things, important social skills.
However, observing the team’s inexhaustible patience and the deeply humanistic idea behind the school, I can only say: Congrats! Une place pour eux is certainly not a film that seeks aesthetic refinement, but we feel the deep respect of its director, Hammoum, in the face of such an incredible initiative.
Are you, like me, someone who likes little bees? Take part in the beehive by watching Une place pour eux…
Note : 8/10
Watch the trailer now: