Speaker wows ESJ students

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 7, 2004


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – Eighth-grade students at East St. John Elementary School received an afternoon treat on Jan. 29. It wasn’t early dismissal or a homework-free weekend. It was a visit from a motivational speaker that kept them captivated for more than an hour.

Marlon Smith arrived at the school Thursday afternoon as the second stop of his visit to St. John Parish. He had previously spoken to East St. John High School students earlier that day as part of their Renaissance Pep Rally.

“Renaissance” is not a school program, it is a process that encourages academic excellence, improvement and citizenship.

During his presentation, the energetic speaker sometimes used sports references to make his point about education as a top priority in the students’ lives.

“As in football, and other sports, you have to keep your eye on the ball,” he said. “You have to be aware of what’s going on around you, and be ready to change tactics.”

Audience participation became part of the session, which kept the students intrigued. At one point, Smith chose a student from the audience, and using a football move, proved his point of preparing for the unexpected. This comparison can be carried over into all aspects of life, he added, both educational and personal.

The idea for Smith’s trip to St. John Parish began with Shirley Harris, business teacher and C.O.E. Coordinator at East St. John High School.

In the summer of 2003, ESJ staff member Teckla Slayton and Harris heard the motivational speaker during the 2003 Jostens Renaissance National Conference in Dallas.

His name came to mind when the teachers were recently asked to assist in coordinating a Renaissance Pep Rally for the high school. Fifty students were to be recognized at this rally.

East St. John High School holds a Renaissance Pep Rally twice a year to reward students for academic achievement and perfect attendance.

In the past, a specific class planned the rally, but the class was not offered this year. Principal Debbie Schum asked the teachers to do the honors. They were to find a motivational speaker in lieu of the usual skits and games used in the past.

“The first person that came to mind was Marlon Smith,” said Harris. ‘When we checked into bringing him here, we found that his fee would not fit our budget.”

Teachers continued to look for an alternate speaker, although they strongly felt that Smith was their man. They finally decided to solicit help from the school superintendent and others to secure Smith for the event, according to Harris.

ESJ High School Athletic Director Larry Dauterive offered help in the way of a contribution from the Athletic Department. Another donation, from Superintendent Mike Coburn, was added and the money for the fee was obtained.

Smith’s fee covered two assemblies and a student leader workshop. The workshop and morning session took place at the ESJ High School library.

In the afternoon, he traveled across the street to meet with the ESJ Elementary School eighth-graders.

Teacher Nettie Parquette was in the audience as Smith delivered his afternoon message.

She feels that presenting information that will get the students thinking about their future at this time in their lives is very important.

And having that information presented in an entertaining way, by someone students can relate to, makes it almost impossible to not recognize the motivational undertones, she added.

“This (type of motivational talk) helps students a lot. It instills in them the idea to do their best,” she said.

Smith believes that true change is a process and not a one-time shot. And he delivers that message in a powerful way.

He believes that it is not enough to give a motivational presentation, but that follow-through reinforcement is also needed.

Smith himself is a lesson in motivation. As a youth, he lacked confidence in his abilities, and struggled in school. Even though some people in his life doubted his ability, he gained a new perspective at a young age.

He said he was not going to let anyone else’s opinion determine his future.

He continued his education and received an Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Virginia.

As a college student, Smith founded, Street Academics, a high school outreach program. He and friends visited various high schools to share success strategies with students.

Through this program, he learned the ‘power of giving,’ which is what he continues to do today with his motivational messages.