Gabriel Bran Lopez was born in Guatemala, immigrated to Montreal when he was very young and grew up in rough socioeconomic neighbourhoods, with parents who struggled with the local language and worked hard to make ends meet.
He almost dropped out of school but managed to make it all the way to university. After graduating in Communication Studies at Concordia University, he heard about the high school dropout issue and was invited to many low-performing schools as a guest speaker, where he talked to kids about what kept him in school. He would get 75 minutes per talk, but would keep 15 minutes at the end to ask them all one question: “What would you like to see in your school to stay motivated ?” They hesitated… but many of them lined up behind the microphones placed around the auditoriums. Their answer was simple – but cruel: “First of all, we are tired of guest speakers like you !” “Please make us part of projects that engage us on a weekly basis. And please give us the tools, resources and people to make that happen. Not for just an hour !” One of the kids even said: “Gabriel, can you come back every week to help us ?”
They wanted hands-on, real-world experiences. Whether they cared about technology, creative arts or the environment—they wanted to be engaged. At the end of his sessions, many teachers and principals would approach him, saying 2 things: 1) “We would like to implement major projects, but we definitely need people to give us expertise to make it happen” 2) “We don’t ask our students often enough what it is they want.
Armed with this feedback, Gabriel returned to Montreal and immediately contacted one of the Vice-Presidents at Concordia University. He had the seed of an idea, and he thought she could help.
The idea went beyond 1-day mentors and 1-hour guest speakers. It was simple, and yet had never been implemented in such a way anywhere: Hire university students and recent graduates in all fields (as expert coordinators), and send them to these schools to work with at-risk students, 10-30 hours per week, from September until June – a 34-week commitment that entailed over 450 hours of work for each of them. Concordia took a risk, invested into this social entrepreneurship idea, and Gabriel soon after matched graduates’ backgrounds with real-world, educational projects spanning 13 different fields: entrepreneurship, fashion design, opera, dramatic arts, visual and digital arts, songwriting and music composition, science and technology, robotics, environmental design, media and film, video game creation, healthy living and leadership.
In addition to working alongside grade or high schoolers on projects related to their academic field, these university students also develop a close bond with their students, which helps nurture continuity and perseverance. Employees from businesses operating in industries tied to the projects are also brought in as mentors and assigned to schools to introduce students to career options and also shepherd them through the process of completing their projects (ex.: Bombardier for robotics; Ubisoft for video game creation; ALDO for fashion design; financial institutions for entrepreneurship). Youth Fusion therefore offers a continuum of interventions ranging from elementary schools to the industry, and contributes to creating closer links between training and employment while working to lower dropout rates.
To lower school dropout rates by creating continuous ties between the school system and the community, in order to involve at-risk youth in innovative and meaningful educational projects that contribute to their learning, their qualifications, and their social integration.
For every child to achieve educational success by having the opportunity to discover, nurture and express their abilities, with the support of the school ecosystem and the community.