ETRE, the free school open to anyone who trains people in ecological transition professions

Near Toulouse, the Ecological Transition School (ETRE) offers young people who have left school or who have already graduated a free training in ecological transition professions. A place where handicraft composes with the awakening of conscience. Report.

Cassandre stands in front of her workbench, sawing a plank with a handsaw, causing a few shavings to slip away. His gesture is confident, his gaze fixed. It’s hard to imagine that the 27-year-old couldn’t fix a wall shelf a year ago. “That day I had a click, I told myself to do crafts and add string to my bow,” she says with a smile on her lips. She then worked as a specialized educator with autistic children, but could no longer find meaning in her daily life. Too much pressure, restrictions, too little mutual help. She has always loved wood, “this material that makes you aware of things”. What if she became a carpenter? After some research, she discovered an education offered at the School of Ecological Transition, namely ETRE, free and open to all young people from 16 to 25 years, or even a little more, depending on the profile. “I immediately wrote a cover letter and I was hired. I never liked school even with a bac + 3, but here everything is different! »

Cassandra, at her workbench. She is a 27-year-old former specialist educator and trained in carpentry at the School of Ecological Transition. Eugenie Baccot

Reconnect with nature

Starting with the place of Lahage, a village of 200 souls 48 kilometers southwest of Toulouse. From the A64 motorway exit, you have to take several departmental roads that cross plains and groves, freshly watered cornfields and old pink brick farmhouses. Nestled in the hollow of a valley of fields, surrounded by forests, a building of 3,000 m2 has been home to the pilot site since 2017. Time seems to stand still here. In this third place, an anti-waste canteen, managed by the school, adjoins a brewery, furniture companies or vegetable processing by lacto fermentation. Donkeys, chickens, rabbits, goats and even two pigs named Janis and Joplin roam the 13 hectares of land. An ideal space to reconnect with nature, for young people who often do not go to school or graduates who feel out of place on the benches of the university.

This place is super welcoming, they are people who share the same values ​​as me, who are benevolent, who respect ecology

Isadora, student in training

Isadora, a student of literature, but in search of meaning, was seduced by the qualifying training in carpentry. Eugenie Baccot

Like Isadora, who started the same education as Cassandre. “I had my literary baccalaureate and then I enrolled at the University of Mirail, in Toulouse, in letters and arts. But I didn’t see where that would take me and I didn’t want to spend my life behind a desk.” A family friend, who lives 15 kilometers away, told him about carpentry training. She runs. “This place is super hospitable, they are people who share the same values ​​as me, who are benevolent, who respect ecology, who work with recycled material, she argues while rolling a thin cigarette. Nine months after my arrival, I know that I made the right choice for my future life.”

Looking for meaning

Founder and director of the School of Ecological Transition, Frédérick Mathis, aims to create one per region within five years. Eugenie Baccott.

This school, unique in France, is the result of a long process of reflection led by Frédérick Mathis and several local players. In 2004, still an educator, he founded the 3PA association (P for think, speak, share, A for action) to make young people in the neighborhoods of Toulouse aware of ecological transition. But at first, some find it hard to stick to the argument, eyeing the end of the month rather than the end of the world. So he takes them to the countryside, to Poucharramet, his children’s village a few kilometers from Lahage, “to let them put their hands in the ground”. He sets up workshops and introduces them to educational farms. Gradually vocations come out, some ask to integrate training to emancipate themselves. Frédérick, who has always dreamed of creating his own school, will open the doors of ETRE at the end of 2017, inaugurated with great fanfare by Carole Delga, President of the Occitanie region.

Here there is no barrier between students and supervisors, and practice replaces theory. Eugenie Baccot

“The project was initially set up for young people who do not attend school. Every year in France 100,000 people leave the school system without a diploma and after three years 70% have not found a job. At the same time, nearly 1 million jobs will be created in the ecological transition over the next 30 years. That is the whole challenge of our project,” he insists, sitting at a wooden table made by ex-students. Only the chirping of birds can disrupt the conversation. Before him, the sun-gilded expanses drown in the blue of the sky, some have taken refuge in the shade of the trees to protect themselves from the heat, others chatted over a cup of coffee.

After the incarceration, there was a lot of demand among graduates, but we want to keep the diversity of profiles as wide as possible.

Frédérick Mathis, founder and director of the ETRE school

“The day after the inauguration, in 2017, we received calls from all over France. I even had a grandmother from Brittany who wanted to register her grandson”, jokes Frédérick. Today about ten schools, including one in Paris, are grouped under the banner of the ETRE Foundation, of which he is the president. They train almost 350 students every year. Each responds to territorial problems: timber in Lahage, bicycles in Paris, gardening in Alénya, near Perpignan. The stated objective is to continually expand with one school per region within five years. “In Occitania we also want one school per department in the coming years. Carole Delga has supported us from the beginning and accelerated our development.”

Here’s everything in the “doing”

Over the years, the network has been broadened and opened up, in particular to graduates in search of meaning, who also arrived. “There was a lot of demand after incarceration among graduates, but we want to keep the diversity of profiles as wide as possible. It is always interesting to see someone who has not studied, for example, helps a master. It is clear that the solution is not only in the diploma, it has been sixty years that we have devalued handicrafts, and we have to change that,” he says.

Ishmael, a student at the ETRE school, was trained in sorting and recycling. Eugenie Baccot

In addition to the qualifying training as a carpenter-mechanic, the Lahage school has several equipment according to the profiles. That of “remobilization”, for those who left school at the age of 16 and don’t know what they want to do. This allows them to experiment in several areas, such as horticulture in permaculture. There is also a “prequalification training”, which lasts six to nine months, where we work on understanding the questions of transition to how to act concretely on a daily basis. There are no theoretical courses or teachers here. Everything is in practice and in “doing”. This is what Sahbi discovers, who arrived just two weeks ago and is trying to reach out in building dry toilets. If he confirms that he likes tinkering, he doesn’t know what training he will take next. For example, his sidekick, Ishmael, who is holding a screwdriver, was able to understand the environmental concerns and the importance of sorting and recycling by going to a recycling shop a little earlier in the week.

Body and soul

Finally, there is the qualification training, chosen by Cassandre and Isadora, with obtaining a diploma as the key. The training is free for everyone and funded by the Occitanie region, local businesses and actors, EU aid or private foundations. According to the figures, 76% of young people return to work or education after leaving and 80% become eco-citizens.

Christine Berlin, training coordinator, would like to remind you that here “we repair bodies and souls”. “We have students in a situation of fracture, with disabilities. Here we can be “different”, be different and not be judged, because everyone has mutual respect. Every morning, when they arrive at 9 am, the youngsters and all the staff do a warm-up in an arc. “This should happen in all companies. It is good for body and mind. We see who is not good, it is a kind of inventory,” says this mother. If school is for many a step towards a new way of life, in the supervisory body, the conversions are many. For example, in 2018 Christine quit her job at Acadomia to join the team. She also wanted to ‘give meaning to her work’ and ‘feel useful’.

Erasmus student Nikki came from Greece to confront the concept of ecology. Eugenie Baccot

This “open cocoon”, as she likes to say, welcomes Erasmus students every year, from the famous student and teacher exchange program between universities, major European schools and educational institutions around the world. Nikki is one of about ten people from Italy, Greece and India who came to spend a week in the center this summer. She obtained a master’s degree in new technologies and wanted to “reflect on the impact of our actions on the climate and ecology”. “The most important thing is that we work together as a team. I enjoyed opening myself to others, learning new working tools, meeting the needs of those who accompany me,” says this 25-year-old Greek woman who takes stock.


“The Erasmus issue is crucial in our education. It includes issues related to openness to the world, as well as incarceration for some young people who have never left their homes. And, more generally, we must not forget how solid the European project is and how we intend to build it up in the coming years. This is of course the core of our concerns,” says director Frédérick Mathis.

In recent weeks, many students from the Grandes Ecoles in France have made their voices heard during their graduation ceremonies and expressed their desire to integrate the ecological transition into their curriculum. Such as Anne-Fleur Goll, who distinguished herself with her pro-climate speech at a ceremony in HEC. The 25-year-old explained that the occupations to which her studies led were the main cause of the “environmental collapse”. At the end of April, eight students from AgroParisTech already claimed that the “capitalist system” is responsible for “the ongoing social and environmental destruction”.

As she lives through her last days at ETRE, Cassandre has only one dream, which is to return there soon. “Once I get my title I will continue to train myself and when I am fully technically autonomous I want to broadcast in turn. I would love to be a manager here, I tell the team every day. For the first time in my life I love school!”

Leave a Comment