Hello. I want to thank you for inviting us.
I want to talk about improving economic opportunities for girls in Canada from the perspective of the École Rosalie-Jetté, a secondary school in Montreal for pregnant girls and young mothers between 12 and 18. I will address our point of view in three sections.
I will begin by talking about the economic situation of our students and the history of the school. The story that brings us to our school's current mission began in 1845. That was the year when Rosalie Cadron-Jetté from Lavaltrie, a widow and mother of 11 children, took in unwed mothers, as they were called at the time, and their children. A few years later, the bishop at the time, Monsignor Ignace Bourget, convinced Ms. Cadron-Jetté to move to Montreal to found a religious community that would pursue her charitable work. Rosalie Cadron-Jetté became Sister Marie of the Nativity and continued her mission until her death in 1864, after which the congregation carried on her work.
Almost 100 years later, around 1964, school services were offered first to the children and then to the mothers. At first they were taught the essentials and eventually they were learning to type, about the plastic arts, and home economics. Despite the commendable and charitable efforts of the nuns, these young women would obtain low-paid, under-valued jobs. That schooling would last roughly 10 years.
In 1974, the Montreal Catholic School Commission, which is now the Montreal school board, opened a vocational school specifically for single mothers. École Rosalie-Jetté was established in east Montreal. It offered general studies and courses in child psychology, nutrition and sewing, the plastic arts, and typing. Five years later, a child care centre opened. The complete program of regular courses, from the first to the fifth year of secondary school, was first offered in the 1976-1977 school year. Professional staff and student services were later added, which brings us to the school we have today in 2012. Future prospects are a little more encouraging.
Thanks to the diversity of paths we have taken over the years, our students can obtain a high school diploma, which opens to door to cégeps and possibly universities. The students can acquire the necessary skills to take a training program and learn a trade. They can obtain a training certificate leading up to a semi-specialized trade and join the workforce.
As far as post-secondary education is concerned, we know that opportunity exceeds probability. A number of the students drop out of high school and before acquiring the necessary skills to take a training program. When they arrive at our school, they are already behind in their learning. They are frequently absent, including for reasons related to motherhood and a psychosocial experience that poses many challenges.
For a number of our students it is very difficult to get a well-paid job that would afford them housing and decent financial support for themselves and their child. Jobs stemming from employee training and semi-specialized jobs offer average or very low salaries. Jobs obtained after earning a bachelor's degree are better, but in those cases our students end up paying back student loans for years.
Second, I will speak about the programs and subsidies that are helping us right now.
While our students are with us, they receive financial help from one or more programs, depending on their individual situation. We have social assistance benefits, family allowances, a program for pregnant students and a program for young students with children. Some of these students have the help of a parent and some live with a partner who is working. Breakfast is available at school to all of them and their children for 25¢. Free snacks are offered twice a day, and our used clothing store offers new and used baby clothes for 10¢ an item.
We have a foundation that provides assistance to the students who need it most. Most of them are receiving enough money to pay for essentials. Our challenge is to help them learn to manage a budget on a very small income.
Finally, I would like to speak about personal finance education and make a recommendation. Many high school students do not want to learn about personal finances. Our students are no exception. They know that they have to manage their money but they cannot stand the subject. They are also at an age where many of them spend money to conform to the dictates of fashion. The adults who are in a position to offer them advice often have a tendency to pass value judgments when they see a mother with a new haircut who is late paying her daycare fees. It is very difficult not to reprove such behaviour, but doing so does not solve anything.
Most adolescents who become pregnant between the ages of 12 and 18 are already experiencing shame, isolation resulting from rejection, abuse and a lack of resources. They need more support that takes into account their reality rather than attempts to bring them onto one right path or another. They need their identity to be recognized.
In terms of a recommendation on improving economic prospects for Canadian girls, we believe, in light of what we have seen at École Rosalie-Jetté, that it would make sense to invest in personal finance education with a focus on specialized training for teachers who are open, inclusive and creative and on the creation of content adapted for this training, testing methods that respect the path these girls are on, and a participatory training plan.
In summary, we must make learning on subjects such as credit card interest, the differences between a personal loan and a line of credit, how to deal with banking documents received by mail, how to prepare an income tax return and how to manage a bank account dynamic and useful. Making students aware of these things at a young age can only help them to develop confidence in their personal worth and a conviction that they can access decent income.
That is all. Thank you.