Boys to men

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 15, 2010

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE – When Dr. Stephen Peters spoke to St. John the Baptist Parish public school system employees at the start of this school year, his words inspired in numerous ways. And while many of his ideas have been put into action throughout the district, none have presented such a tangible sign of progress as the proliferation of gentlemen’s and ladies’ clubs in St. John’s elementary schools.

Although each school has kept the core of the program intact — namely to foster a sense of self-worth in children by teaching them proper behavior — the specifics of each club varies from school to school.

At John L. Ory Magnet School in LaPlace, Monica Brown, the facilitator of the Ory Distinguished Gentlemen’s Club, said she noticed some of the sixth-grade boys were having trouble moving from elementary to middle school. Responding to this, she started the club and made membership mandatory for the ‘tweens.

More like a rite of passage than a club, the boys for the most part embraced their new status. Throughout the school year they have bonded through the common experience of engaging in activities and learning lessons that reach well beyond classroom walls.

At their weekly lunchtime meetings, speakers — mostly fathers of the boys and other parish leaders — imparted the wisdom of their years in between other lessons aimed at turning the boys to men.

To celebrate a year’s worth of growth and accomplishment, the school staged a “four-star banquet” at Lace, the Reception Place. Lace Owner Lisa Crinel donated the space, food and service for the evening’s festivities.

Through an oral presentation and a video, the boys showed their guests how far they had come. Following these and a recitation of their pledge, the boys were treated to one of the last speakers they would hear as Distinguished Gentlemen.

St. John resident and Saints special teams coach Greg McMahon spoke to the young men about the character trait that truly makes one a man. He spoke of having respect and self-confidence and being accountable and delivered his message by way of anecdotes relating to his experiences with the black and gold. By injecting tales involving popular players into his talk, he elevated it beyond mere sermon.

McMahon’s speech, however, was not the only highlight of the evening. Toward the end of the program, Kace Jones, the young son of Darek Jones, delivered a message from his father, a soldier currently stationed in Iraq. When the elder Jones spoke to the Distinguished Gentlemen before his deployment, he promised to buy game systems for the two boys who had the highest grade point averages at the end of the year. Although he was thousands of miles away, he kept that promise, and Fred Turner and Justin Brown each left the reception hall carrying brand new X-Box 360s.

But everyone went home a winner that evening as the boys left one step closer to being men, ready to pass on their signature sweater vests on to next year’s sixth-grade boys.