Life, the city | Martha Wainwright in aid of Centennial Academy

Our journalist travels around Greater Montreal to talk about people, events or places that make the heart of their neighborhood beat.

Martha Wainwright welcomes Ariane Moffatt with a hug. “We will start with Street lamp and Marie-Pierre is going to play bass, she tells him. And can Jordan Officer play too? »

It’s not just another Monday afternoon in the music room of the Centennial Academy, located downtown, on Sherbrooke Street West. We are rehearsing with students for a benefit show which will take place on June 7 at the National with another distinguished guest, Rufus Wainwright.


Martha Wainwright and her son Arcangelo welcome Ariane Moffatt.

This is not the first time that the three singer-songwriters have shared the stage: they have done so many times, from the Plains of Abraham to the Maison symphonique. However, it is a privilege to see them gathered in the basement of a school whose students have learning difficulties.

Several months ago, when Martha Wainwright discussed fundraising with the administration of her son’s school, she had to face the obvious: it was not by cooking that she could make money. best involve as a parent, but by organizing a “gang concert”, as she does every year before Christmas with her brother Rufus and the McGarrigle clan. “But to properly welcome the public and to make the school better known, and as long as we have big names, it had to be in a large room and with the students. »

For several months, Martha has been rehearsing a few songs with the students, including Losing my Religion, of REM, All Apologies, of Nirvana, and The businessman’s bluestaken from the musical Starmania. During the rehearsal we attended, the young people now had to master the vocal harmonies of Street lamp, by Ariane Moffatt, and Nothing to do, by Marie-Pierre Arthur.


Ariane Moffatt and Marie-Pierre Arthur

“Maybe we could add some Ferland?” », launched Martha, especially since Ariane is putting on the show in homage to the little king which will be presented at the Francos on June 18.

The benefit show is an opportunity to raise awareness of Centennial Academy, which welcomes students whose ADHD, dysgraphia, dyslexia or other challenges such as anxiety make learning difficult.

“The school is no longer subsidized for the French-speaking component. This is why it is even more important for us to be there,” underlines Marie-Pierre Arthur, whose son Leopold is studying there in 2e secondary.

“Parents are not always the right people to help their child learn,” underlines the mother of a son who is naturally anxious, but happy to be able to go to school while being an actor, particularly in the series Witches.

“After my son’s primary school, we didn’t have much choice,” recalls Martha Wainwright. It was through research that I learned that Centennial existed. »

Learn differently

Martha Wainwright points out that Centennial Academy has a lot of kids who “fall into the cracks.” Their challenges are too great for traditional public school, but not enough for others like Vanguard.

“All of our students have the ability to learn and graduate in five years. It’s just that they need a lot of supervision and a different teaching structure,” explains deputy director Marco Palmieri. When he was a student at Centennial Academy, he himself suffered from a great lack of self-confidence.

“As I always say, I never really left Centennial,” says the man who went to high school where he would later teach for 16 years before assisting the director at the time, Angela Burgos.


Since 2020, Centennial Academy has been neighboring the Collège de Montréal in the former Grand Séminaire de Montréal.

Centennial Academy’s teaching method is based on “universal design for learning”. In other words, what is good for one student is good for the group: no one is left behind or receives special treatment.

It is not up to the student to adapt to the teacher. Everything is put in place to reduce the cognitive load of students.

Marco Palmieri, deputy director

The assistant principal points out that 80% of Centennial students graduate within five years while the national average is 40% for students with learning difficulties. “We give hope to students and families. »


The Centennial Academy has existed since 1969, but it has only welcomed young people with French-speaking educational backgrounds since 2016. Today, they represent almost half of the 320 students, but the government has ended their subsidy (of around $5,000 per head) while the English-speaking sector is still funded. In summary, the Ministry considers that this is a new school and not that Centennial now offers instruction in both languages. However, this represents a shortfall of approximately $1 million. And many parents are already making enormous sacrifices to pay the tuition fees of… $22,000.

When Elisa Schwarz heard about Centennial Academy, her 3-year-old sone secondary school was “lost in the system”. His first reaction was to tell himself that it was “not realistic”, financially speaking. “I get chills just thinking about it, but after visiting the school, I said to myself, ‘We’re going to do whatever it takes to make this work.’ »


Elisa Schwarz

And it worked! His son even discovered an interest in mathematics. Next Friday is his graduation ceremony, his mother is moved. “He will finish high school in five years and he was accepted into Rosemont CEGEP. »

When Karine Sigouin’s son entered the high school last September, his mother felt “completely abandoned”, especially when she was told that Théo should perhaps already consider doing a DEP.

“I was afraid of losing it,” confides the Laval resident who is far from having a fortune to cover tuition fees. But months later, she has no regrets.


Karine Sigouin

Here, children have time and they are not seen as different.

Karine Sigouin

Parents also feel less alone. “I still remember the first BBQ where I was with others who were going through the same thing as me. »

Martha Wainwright’s conclusion? “Quebec needs Centennial and Centennial needs Quebec’s support. »

Visit the benefit show page

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