About the author

Lina Shoumarova

Research Associate, QUESCREN

Lina is a two-time Concordia University graduate with Master’s degrees in Educational Studies (2020) and Media Studies (2007). She has worked in the field of education for ten years in various capacities – as an university instructor, educator, and tutor for high school and elementary school students, workshop facilitator for adult learners, administrator, researcher, and writer. Her research interests concern literacy, alternative forms of education, and the cultural dynamics of language, particularly as they play out in the field of publishing and in the book as an object.

A Research Agenda for Quebec’s Community School Approach

The Quebec network of Community Learning Centres (known as CLCs or “community schools”) is an international movement that exists with a unique profile in Quebec.  Noel Burke launched it in 2006 in the English-language education sector to connect official language minority schools to their local communities. As of July 2022, over 90 schools in all 9 English school boards across the province have adopted the CLC approach. They provide enriching, community-centered learning to more than a quarter of Quebec’s English-speaking students.

The Provincial Resource Team (PRT) at the Leading English Education and Resource Network (LEARN) leads the network and works to support and carry out its three strategic orientations:

  • Collaboration between schools and communities contributes to student success and better educational contexts, enhancing the school climate and the social, emotional and academic well-being of all students.
  • Schools that engage in partnerships with community organizations and service providers can bring much-needed resources and programs not only to school-aged children and youth, but also to their families and the wider English-speaking community.
  • Schools have a role in contributing to the vitality of Quebec’s English-speaking official language minority.

According to scholar Patricia Lamarre, evaluation reports by third parties show that community schools are meeting their promise: they contribute to improved school climates, greater student engagement, and increased access to resources and services for the English-speaking community in Quebec.

Read on to discover what Patricia and her collaborators at LEARN said in a conversation with me about CLCs and a new research agenda.

The power of partnerships

A unique element of Quebec’s CLC approach is the beneficial partnerships between schools and local community organizations. They provide students access to activities such as gardening with a local ecocentre and intergenerational writing projects organized with the English Language Arts Network (ELAN). Very successful have been the health and wellness programs in collaboration with the Community Health and Social Services Network (CHSSN). The “My Goodnight, Bag” program, for example, provides literacy resources to preschool children and mental health resources for families.

“One of the strengths of working collectively is the pooling together of different sources of funding, but also extending the traditional mandate of schools,” says Patricia Lamarre, professor of education at the Université de Montréal who has conducted several important studies on the CLC network. She notes that anglophone schools in rural and remote areas seem more engaged with their local communities, “where the needs for services and resources in English are more critical.”

The need for more research

Despite the success of the CLC initiative and the existence of similar community-school models across Canada, there is a shortage of research on how CLC schools help local communities, and of relevant policy. Parents, educators, policymakers, and community leaders are increasingly interested in community schools and so the need to measure their value has also grown.

Debbie Horrocks, PRT’s director at LEARN, says that although a lot of research exists on the CLC movement, especially in the United States, little applies to the Canadian and Quebec contexts.

“Many working in the field would like to have access to Canadian data to support the development of their community school education initiatives,” Horrocks adds.

Patricia Lamarre concurs: “We need to put the word out there for people who are starting PhDs or researchers who are starting their careers that there is this marvelous opportunity to get into a school setting and look at something that is new, innovative, local, and specific to official linguistic minority communities.”

Possible topics and avenues for research

Debbie Horrocks, Patricia Lamarre and Ben Loomer, Pedagogical Consultant at LEARN, identify several avenues for future research on CLCs:

Literature review

A good first step is building a knowledge foundation on existing research on CLCs in Quebec, Canada, and abroad. It would also identify gaps in research and questions to be pursued further.

Return on Investment (ROI), and specifically, Social Return on Investment (SROI)

SROI measures the success of social policy and programs and helps people make informed decisions about ongoing resource use. In the context of community schools, it assesses the impact and benefit of social programs on children, families, and local school communities. It would be useful to evaluate school-community partnerships in the Quebec context and tie it with SROI.

Patricia Lamarre cautions, however, that SROI frameworks should be carefully applied. They should clearly outline the contributions of different stakeholders: schools, community organizations, parents, and others. Because SROI frameworks also seek to place monetary value on often intangible social impacts, it could be challenging to identify the impact of CLCs on, for example, school success or the improvement of school climate.

General survey

Designed to collect both quantitative and qualitative data and addressing school principals and school boards personnel, a general survey would seek to evaluate challenges and best practices in CLCs as well as ask education professionals to identify CLC-related ideas for future studies pertinent to their work.

Poverty and children in the school sector

As income gaps continue to widen between Canadian families, educational outcomes for children from families with lower income continue to be impacted. More research could be done on how CLCs address this issue or help alleviate poverty, for example through programs such as Le Club des petits déjeuners.

Pan-Canadian Conference on CLCs

What does community schooling look like across the country? A pan-Canadian conference would address this question by bringing together researchers, education practitioners as well as funders, service providers and frontline staff to “share models and practices and work together to strengthen and expand the community school/community education movement in Canada,” Lamarre and Horrocks note.

As mentioned before, the Quebec approach to community schools is different from those in other provinces or in the United States. As Debbie Horrocks explains, Quebec anglophone CLCs focus on schools and on the resources they can generate for their communities. The Alberta and American models are different. Rather than relying on partnerships, they depend on a primary funder, often a foundation. Also in Western Canada, CLCs often have the mandate to support local Indigenous communities. In Ontario, it would be more accurate to speak of after-school programming or extracurricular activities than community schooling. In the Maritimes, the network functions as what is known as “popular education,” offering fee-based courses of general interest open to the public.

Dynamic and unique initiatives

A variety of approaches can be adopted to address these research themes, including community-led and action research. University scholars can align their interests with those of education practitioners and gain access to schools or to community organizations working with schools.

In Horrocks and Lamarre’s words, it is time to gather the knowledge that exists on the many dynamic and unique CLC initiatives across the country, to “share it and celebrate the Canadian success stories and establish a research and policy development agenda that is specific to our context.”

If you are interested in conducting a CLC-related research study, you can get in touch with LEARN’s Provincial Resource Team.

Further resources: 

LEARN. Community Learning Centres.

LEARN. CLC History and Archives + Resources.

Lamarre, P. (2022, November). The Evolution of the Community Learning Centre Network in Quebec’s Official Language Minority School System. QUESCREN Working Paper #7. Montreal: Quebec English-Speaking Communities Research Network.

Lamarre, P., Horrocks, D. & Legault, E. (2021). The Community School Network in Quebec’s Official Language  Minority (OLM) Education Sector. QUESCREN Education Research Brief #8. Montreal: Quebec English-Speaking Communities Research Network.

Maier, A., Daniel, J., Oakes, J. & Lam, L. (2027). Community Schools as an Effective School Improvement Strategy: A Review of the Evidence [Report]. Washington, DC: Learning Policy Institute.

“What a Community School Approach Brings to Quebec’s English School Sector: Connections, Connections, Connections.” QUESCREN Lunch & Learn event held on Oct. 13, 2022.