Gabriel Bran Lopez
Children & Youth
Indigenous Peoples & Reconciliation
Science & Technology
Re-centring the education system around students’ passions
Gabriel Bran Lopez is tackling dropout rates in elementary, high school and post-secondary institutions by working with the most vulnerable students to build their dream programs.
Injecting schools with youth-led programs and inspiring young mentors.
Canadian schools too often lack the resources to create safe, engaging environments for racialized and marginalized youth to succeed, resulting in poor attendance and low graduation rates.
In Quebec, just 69 per cent of students under 20 in 2009 had received a high school diploma. Material and curriculum can sometimes seem irrelevant and unrelatable. Volunteer-run extracurricular programs can be inconsistent. And stereotypes — assuming poor performance — are pervasive. In some First Nations and Inuit communities, schools also suffer from a lack of culturally relevant resources and teacher shortages.
Gabriel Bran Lopez almost dropped out of his Montreal high school because of racism he experienced as an immigrant from Guatemala. Then a teacher recognized his talent for acting and invited him to join a theatre group, enticing Gabriel to stick it out and sparking an insight that would later inspire him to launch Youth Fusion.
When he first created Youth Fusion, a community-fuelled model that helps motivate students to go to school, Gabriel would target schools with the lowest graduation rates, meeting directly with students starting with the least engaged. He’d ask them what they’re interested in and then work with school administration and teachers to build programming that matched their interests. For example, when a student mentioned an interest in robotics, the Youth Fusion team partnered with Bombardier and Université de Sherbrooke to create FIRST Robotics Quebec. Since 2010, this initiative has helped teachers implement innovative programs in mechanics, electronics and computer programming in their classrooms.
Through time, Youth Fusion created similar pedagogical programs — namely video game design, cinema, fashion, environmental design, artificial intelligence, visual arts and entrepreneurship — to enable students to develop new ways to connect their passion with learning, and express themselves. These programs are delivered by a team of coordinators — current students and recent graduates — who, working alongside teachers, lead in-class as well as extracurricular activities and workshops based on students’ ideas
While students are at the centre of Gabriel’s intervention, the broader community has a role to play in strengthening schools. Financial support comes from universities, local companies, band councils and all levels of government, while programming is supported by teachers, principals, guidance counselors and citizen organizations. Gabriel invites local media to amplify success stories and he highlights student achievement through performances and recognition at conferences, festivals and competitions.
Today, over 250 Youth Fusion coordinators create exciting opportunities for vulnerable students throughout Quebec and Ontario. Every week, they work with 13,000 students in over 200 schools in rural, urban and Indigenous communities to positively impact students’ academic performance, attendance and graduation rates. One school even announced a decrease of 10.2 per cent in their dropout rate, and another one a decrease of 40 per cent in its absenteeism rates.
Gabriel and his team are now replicating his model in New Brunswick — prioritizing programming in First Nations, anglophone and francophone schools — as well as in France. That’s right, Youth Fusion is not only a pan-Canadian but also an international endeavour. He envisions unlocking the passion of students to slash dropout rates and empower young innovators globally.