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Alternative program students create second newspaper

By Rebecca Burk Ellis / L’Observateur / June 24, 1998

RESERVE – Less than a year ago, the 11 students who are currently working cooperatively together to produce a newspaper, could barely behave in a classroom when guests came to visit.

“They were loud. They were uncouth. They were unmannerable,” ElexiaHenderson said. “We had to modify their behavior and as you can see theyare pretty well-behaved now.”Henderson is the principal of St. John the Baptist Parish’s alternativeschool and the students enrolled are working on their second issue of Alternative Voices, a newspaper written, edited and put together by the students, who are even paid for their time, Henderson said.

JTPA pays students $5.15 an hour to produce the newspaper. Hendersonsaid that JTPA analyzed the program and thought it was worthy to take on and pay the students.

“This is a good writing experience for them,” Henderson said. “And theylearn real work ethics and job training from JTPA.”They are also learning how to communicate better. “One of the things thatthe students need is self esteem,” Henderson said. “They also need a lot ofwriting and speaking experience. We want them to be able to communicateproperly because those skills were low.”Alterative Voices is due to come out at the beginning of August. It is a16-page publication, chock-full of articles of interest to teen-agers, such as prevention of gang violence on campuses, the evils of television, sexual harassment and teen pregnancy.

The newspaper also has fun and interesting items like a riddle page and a feature called “Principal Matters,” which is information and facts on each principal in the St. John Parish Public School System.So far, co-editor Orlando LaBiche is pleased with the copy he has read. “Ihaven’t really had to do much editing because the articles were basically finished when I got them,” he said.

This is LaBiche’s second year to serve as an editor of Alternative Voices and he even thinks that because of his experience he may find some kind of career in writing.

“I’m pretty good at it,” he said. “I’d like to be a journalist, but I don’tthink I would like to do investigative reporting. I’d rather be an editor.”Last year, with the first issue of the newspaper, LaBiche said students were guided more by teachers than they are this year.

“I like it because the teen-agers are having a chance to do something that’s just theirs and no adult is involved in,” he said. “We are stillgetting a little bit of help, but this year we are doing more by ourselves except for the publishing.”Last year, Shell Oil published the newsletter for them, and Henderson said she plans to ask them if they will do it again. “We appreciate all of thecooperation we have gotten from all of the businesses,” she said.

And Henderson said that the help from business members has been one of the things that improved the students’ behavior. “I told them that ifsomeone is willing to come out here and help them, they care,” she said.

“If they can behave and learn how to respect people they have something to build on and someone can help them.”Teen-agers enrolled in the alternative program are at least two years behind in school. Many of them have been suspended numerous times andHenderson said that may have been the reason for failure.

Either way, students are required to stay in the program for at least a year, before they can return to regular school.

“These kids don’t suffer from learning disabilities,” Henderson said.

“Disruptive behavior just got in the way.”But the program has helped do just what it’s supposed to do. Severalstudents are returning to the regular classroom this fall, Henderson said.

“Our main thing is to keep them from dropping out of school,” she added.

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