When Christian Perreault heard that he would become the director of the new Pathways Program location in Joliette, he had big goals in mind. In the Lanaudière region, where Joliette is located, one of the main challenges this new Pathways partnership could address was enabling mobility for youth. “Access to transportation is a real issue here,” Christian explains. “When young people are not able to get from one place to another, and their parents don’t have cars, it’s difficult to develop autonomy.”

Christian was all set to go—he looked forward to leveraging this new partnership with Pathways to engage local partners and create mobility options for youth in the area. But there was one issue—timing. “We started at the peak of the pandemic,” Christian recalls. “I was hired on March 11, 2020, and two days later, schools were closing.”

The pandemic amplified barriers to education that students living in low-income communities face, but it’s also created numerous challenges for Pathways Program Partners, like staying connected with students and getting used to online tutoring, as well as doing outreach to engage students to enrol and schools as a key partner. In Quebec, where Pathways has operated since 2007, 10 new Program locations were scheduled to launch over two years, starting in 2020. Between schools closing their physical locations and public health regulations evolving quickly, new Program Partners had to find creative ways to keep the Quebec expansion project going. “We had to create partnerships with schools in the middle of a pandemic,” Christian recalls. “It was a challenging situation.”

Faced with these unusual circumstances, Program Partners turned to what the Pathways Program has shown: anything is possible with the right support system. That’s how every two weeks, Program Partners across Quebec came to meet virtually, exchange best practices, and build a strong support network. “These meetings made it easier to get to know each other, and the more experienced Program Partners helped us a lot,” Christian observes. “We were one of the first Program locations in the expansion, and now, I get to help newer locations myself.” Mathieu Sage, Senior Manager of Community Engagement at Pathways to Education Canada, also recalls the importance of these meetings. “Program Partners from the first six Quebec locations were very generous with their time and resources,” Mathieu explains. “New partners also got to bring their perspective to the table, and it only made our network stronger.”

With these supports in place, staff members at Pathways Joliette can now focus on making a difference in students’ lives by, for example, offering new transport options in partnership with local businesses. And the next time a unique situation arises at Pathways Joliette, Christian and his team will remember the lesson that helped them persevere through this challenging time: others are here to help when things get tough. Mathieu sees this time as an illustration of Pathways Program Partners’ commitment to a better future for students living in low-income communities. “This expansion is a spectacular achievement given the challenges of the pandemic,” Mathieu explains. “The Program Partners showed what it means to be resilient.”