Save the kids (and Jacques-Bourdon Park)!

Laurent is a physical educator at the Saint-Charles Pavilion at Des Ormeaux Primary School in the Duvernay district of Laval. He has been teaching there for ten years. This pavilion accommodates kindergarten students and approximately 210 students in 5th and 6th grade. At school and in the neighborhood, most people call him Mr Lawrence .

He has become popular in this society because he does not compromise on his work. E.g high school of his school, built in the late 1950s, is shockingly small. The place is hardly bigger than a badminton court.

Instead of complaining about it, Mr Laurent has set up a volleyball program that culminates each year in a tournament in which between 90% and 95% of 5th and 6th grade students participate VOLUNTARILY. The volleyball court is so small that during their years of volleyball, Laurent gives 5th grade students the right to use the walls during play sequences. He has found a way to turn his local handicap into a learning tool.

Mr. Laurent is an energetic, even hyperactive man. Any guy in my softball league would tell you that. But he seems to be even more at work. In the winter, after the snowstorms, he uses a small tractor to make large mounds at the back of the schoolyard so the kids can slide down them. He does not have to. But he considers it important that his students can enjoy playful play areas.

This kind of involvement, let’s face it, is not common.

Laurent Daoust

Photo: Courtesy Martin Leclerc

To address the disadvantages of the small gymnasium in the St-Charles Pavilion, Laurent Daoust and his groups of students are also among the biggest users of Jacques-Bourdon Park, which is located just behind the school.

Jacques-Bourdon Park is also located in the heart of an island surrounded by a municipal library, two schools and three day care institutions. In addition to being a central element of the district, this park is of course a part of everyday life for the children, young and old, who attend these five institutions.

The park was designed about sixty years ago and does not betray its age. He needs a lot of love. It is currently composed of a swimming pool and a paddling pool, games for toddlers and two small baseball fields.

But the space is large and functional enough for students to run, play football, play baseball, volleyball and a variety of other activities.

***

Ten days ago, therefore, Laurent Daoust told me that he was particularly concerned about the health and physical condition of his students.

Every year since his arrival in Saint-Charles, Mr. Laurent sends his students to the shuttle test to measure their physical condition and their cardio-respiratory capabilities. This test is quite simple: all you have to do is cross, round trip, a distance of 20 meters after an audible signal, the speed of which gradually increases. The more stages you have time to cross, the more in shape you are.

The mask is mandatory during sports lessons in times of covid.

A sports class in Quebec

Photo: Radio-Canada / Bruno Giguère

But the more the years go by, the more the results that the students produce in the shuttle test decrease.

When I started doing the shuttle test around 2014, it was incredible how my students were able to take two or three steps more than today. That is very clear. The difference is significant. I’m talking about it with colleagues from other schools and it seems to be a generalized situation.

Are there still healthy children? Yes. But in the past, let’s say that out of a group of 26 students, there were 2 or 3 who were really out of shape. There were about fifteen who were in average physical shape and the other five or six were in really good shape. But there I would say that there are 80% of the students who are not in good shape. The gap between the strongest and the rest of the group is gigantic he says.

***

What Laurent Daoust says is not the fruit of his imagination.

Thousands of Quebec students have been taking the shuttle test for study purposes since the early 1980s. And several researchers have noticed that our children’s performance and physical condition have dropped dramatically over the years.

In an interesting master’s thesis in experimental medicine (Laval University) written in 2014, Renée-Claude Guy already noted that children’s results were in free fall compared to those prepared in the study by Léger et al. This latest study, which often serves as a reference point for researchers, was conducted in 1982.

For example, an 11.5-year-old boy and girl who were in the 50th percentile in 1982 crossed 6.8 and 4.9 levels, respectively. In 2014, boys of the same age crossed only 4 levels. And girls, only 3.25.

It’s dramatic.

I remind you that these statistics date from 2014. And Mr Laurent notes that his students’ performance at his school has not improved much since 2014.

The aftermath of the pandemic, he says, was particularly worrying.

Young people play frisbee in the yard of the St-Joseph school.

Students learn to play and collaborate with young people of all ages.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Benoit Jobin

When his students finally started attending his classes again, the vast majority could not sit still in Indian for more than a minute because it hurt her too much. In the body flexibility test (sitting on the floor with outstretched legs and bending the trunk towards the feet), an alarming number of children could barely bend their body enough to touch the lower part of their knees! Some even had to bend down on their shoulders to do so.

In short, we are in the presence of a passionate and dedicated sports teacher who is concerned and who realizes that the two hours of lessons he offers per week are clearly insufficient to counter this alarming trend. As compensation, he recommends doing exercises at home, and he tries by all means to teach his students the extreme importance of being active and developing healthy lifestyle habits.

At this point, I think my role is to try to make my students realize that the current situation is serious. Sometimes I wonder if kids of this generation will not start suffering from heart problems in their 30s rather than in their 50s or 60s. he said, worried.

***

The straw that broke the camel’s back in concern for Mr Laurent arose on 12 April. He’s still amazed.

The day during an information session (which is still available online (New window)), Ville de Laval has announced its intentions regarding the redevelopment of the precious Jacques-Bourdon Park. And in summary, instead of modernizing and diversifying the sports facilities there, the city has decided to make them disappear! Leave the pool and pants. Leave the two baseball fields.

The park’s change of vocation will coincide with a major renovation of the Germaine-Guèvremont Municipal Library, which is also adjacent to the park. And the intentions of the Laval administration are very clear. She decided to turn Jacques-Bourdon Park into a beautiful and large backyard for the library. We want to make the park a place where contemplative activities will be privileged.

A map of the park

Top view of Jacques-Bourdon Park

Photo: Byen Laval

Parc Jacques-Bourdon will therefore no longer have a sporting purpose. City officials have indicated that conventional games for toddlers will remain in place given the presence of many day care centers and kindergartens nearby. There will also be large water games, which of course will only be used by very young children. A mound is being built, it is said, so that the children can walk there in the winter, and which can be used as an auditorium during the summer season.

Finally, a grass area, of relatively modest size, can be used as a multisport area, it was explained.

***

During the question and answer session that followed this very cordial presentation from Laval Municipality’s representatives, however, we clearly felt strong opposition from the citizens. The majority of the interventions concerned the importance of preserving the swimming pool and preserving sports facilities for the people of the district.

I was impressed with the citizens’ attachment to this old-fashioned park and their understanding of the strategic importance of this space given its proximity to schools.

Our kids learned to swim in this pool , argued a citizen. (I rewrite the interventions here as they were quite long)

You say that the water games can be used for a longer period than the swimming pool, but these games will only be used by children aged 0-5 years. The rest of society will lose begged another.

We will fight to keep our pool! announced a man in his sixties.

A few years ago, the Municipality stopped installing an ice rink in the winter. And there you let us know that it is the swimming pool, the pants and the baseball fields that will leave stressed a lady who was concerned about the lack of infrastructure to give young people a taste for movement.

At each intervention, city representatives always very defensively defended their project to rebuild Jacques-Bourdon Park. This call change, they explained, is part of a larger strategic plan for the city.

***

It’s all about perspective in life.

Developing a park with a contemplative vocation probably seemed like a good idea in the town hall offices. But given the alarming trend that is developing in his small gym, Mr Laurent is convinced that it really is not time to make sports facilities disappear.

Students run in the gym at an elementary school.

Students run in the gym at an elementary school.

Photo: Radio Canada

It is a key moment in the history of the district, which is played out. There are too many things that tell us that we adults need to do more to get kids moving.

50 years ago, kids were playing outside and everything was simple. Our role right now is to ensure that tomorrow’s adults are competent, balanced and healthy. If we are to fight the perpetual buffet of entertainment that children have in their homes, on their phones or tablets, we need to give them something really interesting on the outside. These children must have inviting sports facilities in their living environment. he says.

Representatives of the City of Laval accepted citizens’ comments in writing until April 26. They explained that the comments would be analyzed and that they could be used to improve the concept presented. The concept will be completed during the summer.

Ville de Laval professionals would rather sharpen their pencils very well before presenting their final version of Jacques-Bourdon Park. Because the citizens of the neighborhood do not appear to be in a contemplative state.

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