Letter to the editor:

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 7, 2009

To the Editor:

On Monday August 3, over 700 staff members of St John Parish Public Schools gathered in the East St John High School gymnasium for its back-to-school kick-off. Featured speakers for the event were Dr. Stephen G. Peters, Ron Clark, and local pastor Neil Bernard of the New Wine Christian Fellowship. Monday’s event ranked as one of the most informative and inspiring back to school assemblies I have ever attended. Each of the speakers shared uplifting and inspiring stories of the positive affects that a caring educator can have in the life of a child.

Among all the inspirational events of the day, what captured my attention most was the unspoken message that permeated the room. Nearly every district staff member I came in contact with exhibited a contagious attitude of optimism and high expectation for the upcoming school year. I am convinced that it was not the comments of the speakers that motivated the staff, but instead, the infectious enthusiasm of the staff that brought out the best in the speakers. As I reflected on the day’s event I thought to myself, “Isn’t that what educators do?” bring out the best in the individuals they serve. By the time I left the meeting I had been infected with a new sense of hope and optimism and a shared vision of high expectations for the upcoming school year.

St. John’s educators possess phenomenal capacity. Despite their potential, I would be remiss of me to give the impression that educators have the ability to solely shoulder the responsibility of educating our youth. This responsibility goes far beyond the scope of any one entity. I agree with Etienne Wenger who states, “ . . . although schools are institutions that focus on learning, they are not always the place where students learn most deeply.” Active community engagement [or lack of engagement] significantly impacts the value our youth place on learning and the level of effort they invest in the learning process. If members of the community fail to work collectively and collaboratively with educators we place our youth at-risk of underperforming in school and achieving poor post school outcomes.

Overall, consensus exists within the community on the importance of providing quality educational opportunities for youth. Unfortunately, the roles and responsibilities we should play collectively to create and maintain these educational opportunities have yet to be realized. My interactions with the energetic and enthusiastic educator corps of St John Parish Public Schools have encouraged me to self-evaluate my role and responsibility for ensuring that our community’s youth receive the best education possible, and I encourage others to do the same. Together we can make a significant difference.

Vincent Jay Harper

Norman, Okla.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is a former teacher in the St. John school system and is currently a Sooner Scholar at the University of Oklahoma.)