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Troubled students getting a second chance

By Rebecca Burk Ellis / L’Observateur / June 10, 1998

GARYVILLE – Laine Cortez, a sophomore, got into some trouble this year and was expelled from East St. John High School.But things are looking bright for this bubbly 15-year-old, who attended a newly revamped program in Garyville. It used to be only for specialeducation students and was called the Garyville Homebound Center, but now it’s for any student in trouble wishing to improve and return to school.

The Redirection Center has helped several students since it was formed in March.

One of those students is Cortez. She earned three credits at the center andwill return to East St. John in the fall as a junior.”When I got kicked out I realized how serious it was,” Cortez said. “Andthat this was my last chance. I couldn’t get kicked out here.”About 40 other students from second grade up to seniors in high school are in the same situation as Cortez and are attending the program, facilitator Nora Pierre said. “This is their last chance to get themselves headed inthe right direction,” she said.

Seven teachers and many other administrators, including a deputy on campus, are there to help.

“It’s a wonderful concept because it not only allows them to redirect their actions, but they can earn credit while they are here and adjust their attitude,” Pierre said.

Participation in the program is optional for the students, but if they decide to attend they are required to follow all of the basic rules of discipline, Pierre said. The center especially stresses to the studentsgood attendance, respect of themselves and others and completion of work. If they choose to break the rules, Pierre said, their expulsion isupheld and they are not allowed to go back to the center.

The amount of time a student spends at the center depends on the reason they were expelled. Pierre said drug or weapon-related expulsions call fortwo years to be spent at the center unless the student improves and petitions the school board to return to regular school. Otherwise, studentsjust spend the remainder of their school year at the center and at the end of the year return to their respective school.

The small number of students at the center create more of a one-on-one and understanding environment between teacher and student. “When I goback to East St. John I’m going to have to be good,” Cortez said. “Ms. Pierrewas real nice and she gave me a lot of attention. If teachers are mean I’mthe type to just rebel against them.”But Cortez is determined to improve her behavior and finish her last two years of high school. She wants to set a good example for her 10-year-oldsister and go to cosmetology school.

“I’ve got to be good for my little sister because if she does what I did, I’ll kill her,” Cortez said protectively.

Another thing that helps improve attitudes of the troubled students at the center are the guest speakers, Pierre said.

About 10 guest speakers from school board members and administrators to police officers, pastors, activists and business and industry members shared their ideas on how to become positive contributors to their homes and communities.

Garland Roussell of Nalco Chemical spoke to the students Wednesday, their second to last day of school.

He played a song that all of them were familiar with – R. Kelly’s “I BelieveI Can Fly” – and asked them not to just listen to the music, but to listen to the words. Students sang along and pondered the song’s meaning.When the song was over one student said Kelly was singing about miracles.

Roussell agreed.

“He believes you can fly,” he said. “I believe you can fly. Now you have tobelieve it. The world is in your hands. It’s up to you to believe and havefaith and do something with your life.”Pierre said many of the students are returning to regular school in the fall and were able to earn credits so they won’t be held back. She said thatseveral school systems heard about the program in St. John and are askingquestions about it to do something similar in their system.

“It is a very good concept and a very progressive step for St. John Parish,”Pierre said. “The idea is to keep the students who are expelled off thestreet.”

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