Founded in 1999 by the Quebec YMCAs, the YMCA Alternative Suspension program supports high school students who are temporarily excluded from school. In this three- to five-day extracurricular program, students receive homework assistance and participate in group workshops and one-on-one meetings to develop their independence and self-esteem.
To date, more than 20,000 students have taken part in this program in Canada, Australia, England, Ireland and France. In fact, the program has just been rolled out in New South Wales, Australia and Dublin, Ireland, increasing the total number of facilities to 67.
“Dropping out of school is often precipitated by a negative, hard-to-manage event in teens’ lives, such as a suspension. The YMCA Alternative Suspension program turns a situation that hinders academic progress into something positive.”
Véronique Dupéré, full professor of Psychoeducation at Université de Montréal, has been involved in the Social Impact Bond project committee since 2021.
Review of recent rollouts
On May 10, the YMCA Dublin team joined the fight against school dropout by launching the program at their centre. Over 11,000 students are suspended in Ireland each year, which is almost 4% of the school population at post-primary level. Currently in its second pilot year, it has already netted an 11% increase in school referrals and positive reactions from young participants. Specifically, 70% of them said they felt ready to return to school following their participation in the program.
“We are delighted to finally launch our Alternative Suspension service at YMCA Dublin and support students not only that are suspended from school, but are at risk of being suspended.”
Kathryn O’Mahony, CEO of YMCA Dublin Source: Dublin Gazette, May 15, 2023
Building on decades of success in Canada and Europe, the YMCA NSW launched the program in May 2023. Data from the New South Wales Department of Education revealed a record-high school suspension rate of 6.8% in 2021. In addition, a survey of public school management teams and staff in 2020 showed a genuine desire to find better alternatives to suspensions to avoid sending students home. YMCA NSW facilities will now operate two suspension centres, one in Parramatta and the other on the Central Coast, where they will be able to manage 300 youth referrals during the first five school terms.
“I just think it’s an incredible alternative for young people. When they are suspended, they are often at home not doing much, roaming the streets, [and] their self-esteem is impacted.”
Louisa McKay, Y NSW’s executive leader Youth and Community Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, April 23, 2023
The primary goal of the YMCA Alternative Suspension program is to provide young people with an opportunity to turn their suspension into a positive experience in order to successfully reintegrate school. Several evaluations of the YMCA Alternative Suspension program have consistently demonstrated that the program:
- helps students develop their resiliency, independence and ability to stay in school;
- has a positive influence on their academic drive and enables them to expand their social network;
- helps students curb problematic behaviours, avoid future disciplinary issues and improve their academic performance..
The mission of YMCA Alternative Suspension: Encourage perseverance, one young person at a time. As the stats show, this approach is very promising.
- A total of 63% of young people were subject to fewer disciplinary measures after taking part in the program, compared to 41% of those in the control group.
- The program leads to changes in attitudes and behaviour in 85% of young people referred in the medium term, and 50% of them in the long term.
On the eve of the program’s 25th anniversary of the program, the YMCAs of Quebec are proud to see this initiative getting international traction. Dropping out of school is a global issue, for which the tools provided are adapted to local needs.
“The YMCA movement excels when we work together to share and develop proven initiatives for young people worldwide. We are thrilled to support the continued growth of this wonderful resource at the international level.“
Nicolas Greenfield, Director, National Program Development
Long live the program and thanks to all our collaborators!