Racine Carrée takes on high drop-out rates
What happens when you pair a bunch of grade-five pupils with engineering students from Concordia to design indoor greenhouses?
This exact experiment took place at École Martin Bélanger in Lachine. Thirty primary school students participated in workshops throughout May to prepare for the arrival of more than 40 volunteers from Concordia’s Faculty of Engineering.
When the two groups came together, they spent the day working on the kids’ designs.
The project — organized through Racine Carrée, an experiential-learning initiative first conceived by engineering student Sherwin Pereira — was a success. One greenhouse prototype was built, incorporating an element from each of ten team designs.
“One particularly shy little guy really came out of his shell and said he wants to be an engineer. He wasn’t the only one,” says Deborah Dysart-Gale, chair for the Centre for Engineering in Society. “It was a great opportunity for young kids to interact with university students, perhaps some of the first, and see how approachable they are and how accessible Concordia is.”
Pereira (Meng, 2015) first came up with the idea for Racine Carrée in Dysart-Gale’s graduate course, Creativity, Innovation and Critical Thinking (ENCS 6041), in the fall of 2014.
He took his proposal to District 3, Concordia’s startup incubator, for some advice and mentorship. Eventually, Racine Carrée evolved into a full-blown social-innovation program, housed through the Office of Community Engagement. It’s the university’s official contribution to the Adopt a School and Youth Fusion initiatives.
Pereira explains that Racine Carrée is a project-based learning hub that aims to merge primary school students, university students, alumni and community partners to overcome the social, economic and geographic barriers that contribute to Quebec’s low graduation rate.
“But we’re also about community empowerment,” he adds, explaining that he decided to spearhead the greenhouse Design Challenge at École Martin Bélanger because Lachine is considered a “food desert zone” for fresh produce.
“We seek out real problems that affect different members of specific neighbourhoods in the Montreal area.”
Getting your hands dirty
With its hands-on, multi-disciplinary approach to collaborative and experiential learning, Racine Carrée embodies five of Concordia’s nine strategic directions — teach for tomorrow, get your hands dirty, mix it up, embrace the city and go beyond.
“When our engineering students can connect directly with the community, and get their hands dirty designing prototypes with kids, experimenting boldly, we can take pride in that,” says Dysart-Gale. “This is an important step in connecting theoretical engineering with the way it impacts the needs of people.”
Moving forward, Racine Carrée will continue to seek collaborative opportunities with primary schools, and ways to boost community empowerment.
“We aren’t always going to be designing greenhouses,” says Pereira, now the manager of Racine Carrée. “The community self-identifies their need and the projects will evolve organically from the local situation.”
Learn more about Adopt a School.