From the happy expressions on the faces of after-school students entering the Ponchatoula Community Center recently, it was easy to see something exciting was about to happen.
After their usual healthy snacks, pupils first eagerly participated in Mad Science projects.
Mad Science of Southeast Louisiana is a leading science enrichment provider based in Metairie. Its trained technicians travel year ‘round throughout the area bringing “education wrapped in entertainment” to schools, birthday parties, and many other special events.
Later, parents and guardians joined students in the gym to enjoy a full delicious jambalaya meal with salad, vegetables, and desserts at tables displaying student artwork with positive comments about the after school program.
Earlier, City Human Resources Director Lisa Jones had personally provided pottery supplies needed for the students to make handmade gifts for their parents. Each decorated box read “Let these gratitude beads be a constant reminder of how much I appreciate everything you do for me.”
Student Outreach Director May Stilley and Mayor Bob Zabbia welcomed the crowd, thanking the many who boost the youth in the program: Community Center Director Lynette Allen, City Council Members represented by Braville LeBlanc, Advisory Board, teachers, bus drivers, volunteer tutors from SLU Math 367 and PHS Key Club, to name a few.
Teachers joined Stilley congratulating their students as they handed each a Certificate of Completion. (1st and 2nd grades: Charlotte Gordon and Daphine Griffin, Para’s: Shirley Creel and Cathy Colkmire; 3rd and 4th grades: Lisa O’Donnell and Desrie George; Para’s: Annette Tullier, Leigh Burnthorne and Kelly Martin; 5th and 6th grades: Kim James and Elisha Perry; Para’s: Janea Magee and Kacey Martin; 7th and 8th grades: Windy Haist and Alison Buzbee.)
Desrie George’s beautiful voice rang out as he sang from his heart “You Can Fly” – words to encourage not giving up but working to make dreams come true.
At comment time, Key Club officers Austin Granier and Matt Hailey were quick to say their lives have been enriched by working with the students each day.
Students themselves came forward with smiles, one expressing her initial fear of being with strangers but it had been more like family as she gained new friends.
Another young lady beamed she had gone from Fs to As in Math. Next, her father praised the program for its help, adding with humor, there’s no longer stress in their home over homework! A mother agreed from her seat to the change in her home and how grateful she is for all the people who make it possible. To this, many “amens” rang out.
Before the evening closed with Bingo, May Stilley reminded parents and guardians of the 53 students that they have the most influence: “You are the first teacher.”
She continued to the students, “We want our community to be the best it can be. Obey law, respect each other and the community. Find something you like to do, study to do it, then find somebody to pay you to do it. It all starts with education.”
In teachers’ personal written comments to Stilley, one expressed the thoughts of all, saying each student is placed in their lives for a reason. They might not all be a “shining star” or “perfect student” but by opening the doors of communication and learning from each other, even those arriving with a “don’t care” attitude, can turn their lives around to believe in themselves when they see how many others already believe in them.
The program for the coming school year will begin in September. For more information or if you would like to volunteer, donate or become a sponsor for the program, contact May Stilley at 985-401-2210 or Lisa Jones at 985-386-6484.
By Kathryn J. Martin