West Bank students try hand at solving community problems

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 24, 2009

By David Vitrano


EDGARD – The two groups of civic-minded citizens who took the podium in Edgard recently were a bit younger than those usually seen at a council meeting or other such locales. They were all eighth-grade students at West St. John High School.

Despite their relatively young ages, the students presented well thought out and researched examinations of a couple of problems that have been on the minds of many on the West Bank recently.

The first group took on the issue of the Reserve-Edgard Ferry, which has been out of commission since 2005.

The second group focused on improving the safety of the Edgard railroad crossing where two people lost their lives late last year.

Each group was broken into four sub-groups, with each group member playing a specific role.

In the end, each group seemed proud of what they had accomplished.

“It was fun. We were nervous at first, but when we got into it, we calmed down,” said eighth-grader Ronnia Celestine.

It was a new experience for all involved, including the school itself.

West St. John High School social studies teacher James Kline introduced a system of project-based learning to the school this year. As such, his methods involve a bit more in the way of active learning than what is usually seen in the classroom.

As an added incentive, he introduced the Kline Cup, a trophy that will be awarded to the student who does the best in these projects. The award comes with a cash prize of $250.

Winning the award is no easy task, however. The students presenting their projects must do much more than impress their parents. A panel of judges was chosen to judge the students’ performances.

This time the panel consisted of State Rep. Elton Aubert, St. John Parish Councilman-at-large Dale Wolfe, Roy Quezaire of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and Chermaine Roybiskie of the Westbank Civic Association. Despite their pedigrees, the judges seemed impressed by the work of the young activists.

“I commend you all on the resolution. It really painted a picture of the problem,” said Quezaire. And that was just one of the positive comments heaped upon the groups throughout the course of the evening.

The most glowing remarks of the evening, however, came from the students’ teacher.

“As a teacher, the proudest moment you can have is to see your students go out on their own,” said Kline. “I couldn’t help but tear up at a few points.”