Helping students achieve their potential… The BIG program

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 18, 2000

L’Observateur / November 18, 2000

There are some new rescue workers and emergency personnel at LutcherHigh School.

Gaynell Albert, assistant principal, her Blacks Inspiring Growth (BIG 10)students and three community leaders have cast out life lines and areworking to haul back in some 25 black students in grade 8.5 who are in needof their guidance.

The BIG program is designed to assist those black students, underachievingfor whatever reason, and help them increase their grade point average andpass the eighth-grade LEAP exam. The overall objective is to keep thesestudents from dropping out at the beginning of their high school career.

The BIG 10 play the part of objective listeners, advisors and friends. EachBIG student maintains a 2.9 grade point average and has been picked byAlbert to help her in the program.

Also assisting in the program are the Rev. Ferdinand Gaines Jr., Errol Manueland Calvin Batiste, three upstanding black members of the community. Thesemen also serve a mentors and role models who come in once a month and sitwith the students. Their monthly sessions give the mentors a chance to keepup with how the boys are doing in school. The sessions, perhaps moreimportantly, serve as an outlet for the students to explain to an objectiveparty what is going on in the life, what difficulties and problems they arefacing.

The group, which meets once a week, met Wednesday with the mentors.

As her BIG 10 students enter, she reminds them to greet the students witha hand shake and eye contact.

When everyone has arrived they begin the class with their pledge, “I am anAfrican-American and I pledge to uphold the name and image of the African-American man. I will do so by striving for academic excellence, conductingmyself with dignity and respecting others as if they were my brothers andsisters.”

The pledge reminds that the program is not just about grades but about self-worth and becoming upstanding and respectable men.

Albert took time to remind students of the coming end of the grading period.

“Are you prepared? Don’t answer out loud. Answer within yourself,” saidAlbert. For some of the students, failing the grading period could meanfailing the year.

This was the third meeting for the mentors.

“I see this as a chance to give something back,” said Batiste. He takes hisgroups of students, and a few of the BIG 10, into a separate classroom sothey can sit back and talk about what’s going on.

Batiste starts out with the academics, asking how everyone is doing in theirclasses. Most answer, “All right.”

“What do you call all right?” Batiste asks. He continues by asking aboutconduct. He asks those in the BIG 10 if they’ve been looking after each otherproperly.

“This is not a sometimes thing. This must be an everyday occurrence,” saidBatiste.

There is after-school tutoring in the community, and Batiste looks for anyinterested. One student is already participating, and a few others increasetheir interest in joining. The discussion starts a little slow, with Batiste doing most of the talking, but soon that changes. The students loosen up and talk about their problems, anything from smoking to whether or not to back downfrom a fight.

The students are supposed to stay out of trouble, they know that, but theimportance of defending their family, friends or own honor is a very highpriority.

With Batiste’s promise that everything spoken remains in the classroom,they open up to him with examples and ask his opinion. The students presstheir points and rationale quizzing Batiste through a variety of situations.

Batiste answers each logically. He reminds students they must do what isbest for them; getting into trouble because of pride rather than just walkingaway is the wrong decision, he says.

Batiste, Gaines and Ferdinand are there not just for answers but asexamples of those correct answers. Batiste admits there are friends he hashad to leave behind because sticking with them would have led him in thewrong direction. The mentors are there to show that the right path can be aviable choice. The BIG 10 students are there to show that there are highschool students who are following the right path, no matter the difficulties.

“These boys live day to day,” said Albert.

This program is designed to help them look forward into their future and helpthem see the right choices can be made and stuck with.

“We are here to make our young men aware of the responsibilities in life,”said Gaines. He reminds them they can’t control life, but he says they cancontrol their attitude.

“This is very important. I feel if I show interest maybe they’ll feel better anddo better,” said Samuel Battiste, BIG 10 senior.

Albert sees progress is being made and hopes to make the mentor meetingmore often than once a month. On Nov. 30 the parents of the 25 studentsare invited, and it’s so important they will be transported to Lutcher High tomeet with the BIG 10 students and the mentors.

“Tell your parents you want them to come,” said Albert. For this program towork the parents have to be involved, added Albert.

The program is of significant importance, not only for Lutcher High but forthe community of St. James Parish. In the program statement Albert wrote,”It is our goal to help develop high achieving black males into leaders. Byhelping youth define their own goals and see the possibilities, we arestrengthening and enriching out own communities. We will all benefit.”

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