The bell to signal the end of the day at Westpark School in D.D.O. is almost drowned out by the voices of Grade 2 students filing out of their classroom. “Soccer, soccer, soccer,” chant the boys as they follow their teacher, Serge Bouchard. In the hallway, young boys from another Grade 2 class join them. The group of about 20 students follow Bouchard, known as Monsieur Serge, as he makes his way to the school’s large, sunlit gym. Here the boys will spend the next hour playing raucous, but friendly, games of soccer. This after-school club, organized by Bouchard on a voluntary basis, is designed to build the boys’ social skills as well as provide an outlet for their boundless energy.
The idea for a soccer club began a few years back when teacher Colleen Aziz ran a special weekly friendship club for children to hone their social skills while participating in various activities. But Bouchard, who has been a teacher for 23 years, felt the boys could benefit from a club of their own, especially one led by a man.
“They relate more to me as a guy,” he says, adding that boys have few male role models in elementary school, where most of the teachers are women.
Last spring, Bouchard organized a friendship club for the boys in his Grade 2 class so they could meet at lunch to talk, laugh and do a project together. However, around this time Bouchard also noticed that several young boys were being sent to the principal’s office for misbehaving. He felt that the boys weren’t really being bad per se; they simply had a great deal of energy that needed to be channeled in a positive way.
That’s when he came up with the idea to remodel the friendship club into a place where physical activity would be the main focus. Bouchard jokes that he didn’t know anything about playing soccer when he first organized the club but with help from Sabrina LeBlanc, the school’s gym teacher, he managed to brush up on the rules of the game. Now the group meets once a week, playing outside when weather permits.
During the hour-long sessions, the boys learn to mix responsibility with freedom. Although Bouchard chooses the team captain, once that is done, it is the captain’s job to organize their teams, decide who will play first, and mediate disputes. In fact, when the kids approach “Monsieur Serge” with a complaint, his response is: “Have you talked with your captain?”
For boys who are shy or not used to being a leader, he says the experience of being team captain makes them feel proud. “They get to practice being a leader in a safe environment.”
The boys involved say it’s one of their favourite activities at school. Ryan Shapiro, 8, says he enjoys not only having fun with his friends but also having a chance to meet boys from the other Grade 2 class.
Carole Ball, a mother of four whose son is in the program, helps Bouchard each week. She says the boys have shown a remarkable improvement in their social and sportsmanship skills.
At the end of an hour spent playing soccer (the final score is an 8-point tie, the boys are eager to point out), the teams line up and give each other high fives for a game well played. Then the boys literally tumble out of the gym, their faces glowing with energy and pride. Bouchard smiles.
“It’s important for them to have a sense of belonging,” he explains. “The club makes them feel special.”