For the 965 students, back-to-school was special this year at Cité des Jeunes A.-M. Sormany in Edmundston. Since September 1st, 2016, with the help of the Take Action on Tobacco Use Grant Program, the school launched the Un environnement sans fumée, à l’école et dans ma communauté (A smoke-free environment at school and in my community) program, which makes the school and neighbouring properties, including various sports and arts facilities, 100% smoke-free.

“We started working towards this in September 2015,” explains Éric Marquis, vice-principal of the school.

The first step was to create a committee involving different members of the greater Edmundston community including students, the city’s community police officer, faculty members and experts from the provincial health department as well as medical specialists.

“We always think about our students’ health, but also the health of everyone else at school and the broader community. This new policy is part of a series of initiatives. I remember, seven years ago, we eliminated the option to smoke between classes, then promoted healthy eating habits and we offered a program to help students quit smoking. However, we felt we needed to do more.”

Marquis says that to find out the best way to implement the new smoke-free program, the school did a survey with its students. The questionnaire helped the school’s staff to identify ways to help them work towards a smoke-free lifestyle.

“We wanted to see how many students were smokers. We were not surprised to find out that not too many considered themselves to be seasoned smokers, only about 4 or 5% of our student population, or approximatively 30 students. Among them, the majority supported the school and neighbouring properties going 100% smoke-free.”

“We identified the smokers by meeting them in an area where we allowed them to smoke. We asked them if they wanted to quit, and were then able to guide them towards available resources.

These students can access resources at the school, but also in the community. A respiratory therapist from the area has opened the pulmonary clinic to students and members of the community.

Signs developed by students which explain the new policy were placed at the two entrances.

Beyond professional help and nicotine replacement therapy, smokers were looking for another important element: the opportunity to be involved in physical activity to help them manage their cravings.

Students also suggested that part of the parking lot should be transformed into a green space to enjoy the outdoors.

The school’s faculty created a student committee to find out how could this space be used.

As a result, a gazebo, completed with picnic tables, were built in the summer of 2016 with the help of current and past students of the school.

According to Marquis, there were no issues with the implementation of the policy.

“During the first week, we intervened with five or six students, and then two, but ever since that, everyone follows the policy. It went through like a hot knife through butter.”

Having the student population participate in various aspects of the policy helped to ease the transition according to Marquis.

“Smoking is not cool amongst kids anymore. I’ve been a teacher for the last 17 years. I remember during my first years here, at the school, there was maybe 300 smokers. Last winter, there were often days where there were only two smokers outside.”

The success can be explained by the preparation of the school’s faculty.

“Over the years, we have learned that in order to change something at school, we need to prepare ourselves and involve our students. We gave ourselves one year in advance to prepare the policy and we asked for help from the students, some of which were smokers.”

This policy also applies to the school’s faculty. Everyone, including parents and members of the community welcome these changes.

“Many told us that there are two places where smoking should be banned at all costs: hospitals and schools. Our policy was well received in the community and I’ve heard people talking about it often.”

During a press conference in September, the mayor of Edmundston and members of the community came together to congratulate the school on their new policy. According to Marquis, the greatest legacy the school could leave with its decision is seeing similar schools in the province following their steps.

“We hosted a national leadership conference and other French schools in the province asked us how we managed to succeed with our policy. I gave them information, hoping that other schools will do the same thing.”

Congratulations to the Cité des Jeunes A.-M.-Sormany for your initiative which benefits everyone!

Story and picture used with permission from the Cité des Jeunes A.-M. Sormany.

Published in December 2016

By Jean-Étienne Sheehy – NBATC Communications Coordinator