As he walks around École secondaire Saint-Henri, Gabriel Bran Lopez talks about why he created a youth fusion group to lend a helping hand to students across the province.
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The Sud-Ouest school is one of over 100 that are taking part in the program.
“Kids can learn kids can succeed not just academically but in life,” he explained.
At the heart of the program is a chance for kids to create projects in the fields they love – robotics, fashion design, computer gaming – while being mentored by people who work in the industry.
“To show them the links between training and employment so that even if they have learning disabilities or poorer backgrounds, kids can say ‘I can be an entrepreneur, I can be an engineer, I can be an artist,'” Lopez said.
The program launched in 2009.
“Back then, I was only 25, so I had no network,” he explained.
“I had no entrepreneurial experience, no managing or management skills.”
Coincidentally, the Bank of Montreal’s Jacques Menard had also just created a task force to tackle the drop-out rate in Quebec.
“I got this phone call out of the blue from this great leader who said ‘come, we’ll have coffee,'” he said.
Menard introduced Gabriel to some of Quebec’s biggest business leaders – Bombardier engineers, Aldo employees, Ubisoft and the Caisse de Dépôt.
“It happened really fast, but there was a momentum, there was a desire in the Quebec school system to find innovative solutions and really change the way kids learn,” said Lopez.
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Lopez said he recognizes himself in these at-risk teens.
His family came to Montreal 30 years ago after fleeing the war in Guatemala.
“I always felt like an outsider for many reasons: I have an accent, my skin is not the same colour as others and I hated school,” he said.
“I hated going to school, I hated math, I hated science.”
It was drama teacher Mathieu Elie at Dunton Academy in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve who planted the seed of success in Lopez’s mind.
He graduated in 2000 and credits him with changing the course of his life.
“I figure that giving him the opportunity of doing theatre and also doing other different activities made him find a part of himself that made him belong to school,” Elie told Global News.
“I’m flattered that he thinks I’m the one who did that – he did most of the work.”
With 77 per cent of Quebec teens now graduating high school by age 20, Lopez said he’s not planning to stop believing in them anytime soon.
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