St. James mentoring program expanding in its second year

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Staff Reporter

LUTCHER – The St. James Parish public school system is expanding the mentoring program it implemented last year to combat truancy and encourage students to keep up with their studies and stay in school.

Last year, 36 mentors – ministers, retired principals and teachers, plant and hospital workers to name a few – agreed to spend at least one hour a week with an eighth-grader at either St. James High School or Lutcher High School. The mentors checked up on students’ schoolwork and attendance and “developed a good rapport,” said Gaynell Albert, the administrative director for student services in St. James Parish Public Schools who designed the mentoring program.

“We have a number of students who are not performing up to standard because of the many circumstances they have to deal with outside of their control,” Albert said. “It has been statistically proven that when children have a mentor or another positive adult that encourages and reinforces positive behavior to them, they perform better in school and at home.”

Albert said the program also provided a good opportunity for people in the community to give something back to the school system. “Our mentors were really rewarded,” she said. “We definitely got a lot of good feedback.”

For this school year, Albert is looking to expand the program to include students who have recently been placed in the accelerated learning program implemented under the parish’s high school redesign plan. The accelerated program allows at-risk students to earn credits and finish school more quickly.

Albert said many of the mentors from last year have committed to participate again. But she said she was having some trouble recruiting new mentors for the program.

Rachel Becnel, a registered nurse and the director of business development at St. James Parish Hospital, said she assisted a student last year in bringing his grades up from failing to passing. “He was very concerned about taking the LEAP test and he passed that as well,” she said, referring to the statewide standardized test for fourth and eighth-graders.

Becnel, who will be participating in the program again this year, said the student she mentored had also lost his mother a few years ago. “I felt he really benefited from having a female person he could talk to,” she said.

Parties interested in becoming mentors or obtaining more information regarding the program should contact the SJPS Office of Student Services at 225-258-4519 or visit them on the Web at