New perspectives for the 21st century

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 18, 2010

By David Vitrano


GARYVILLE – A new after-school alternative for students at Garyville-Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet School as well as St. John the Baptist Parish’s two west bank schools is giving at-risk students a new perspective.

Thanks to a 21st Century Learning Center grant written by the River Region Multicultural Chamber of Commerce, these often overlooked children are experiencing new sensations while improving their academic performance.

“When you’re dealing with students from a rural area, it’s hard to make education applicable,” said O.J. Breech, who heads up the RRMCC and oversees the program.

That is why, she said, the program supplements instructionally focused days with days of cultural enrichment and weekly field trips. Mondays and Wednesdays are devoted to cultural enrichment while Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for instruction, and those students who participate all week long are treated to an excursion on Fridays.

On a recent Monday, some of the program participants at GMMS, with the aid of instructors from RRMCC partner Choice International, learned step routines while others worked on their vocal skills. But instead of being a break from general instruction, Breech said these experiences are aimed at educating the children in a different way by exposing them to things they might not normally be exposed to.

“There is a point to all of this,” stressed Breech.

Even a trip to play miniature golf can become a math lesson in the hands of program moderators.

This shift in focus not only creates a new perspective for program participants but also has forced those in charge to look at the children from a different perspective.

“Our program is targeted toward reaching the child from a holistic point of view,” said Breech. “We’re going to find something right with all of them.”

She explained, “Everyone learns differently,” before adding, “Some of the kids in the program are sharp as a whip, but they have other issues going on.”

Accordingly, Breech and the teachers and parents involved in the program look at each child individually and consider a complete spectrum of factors that might contribute to a child’s academic success.

The approach has apparently worked.

“We’ve seen improvement already in the children,” said Breech.

GMMS Principal Kelli Joseph concurred.

“Ms. Breech and the entire crew she has brought in have done an exceptional job,” she said. “I’m really excited by all the wonderful things they’ve done.”

While the program is currently limited to three schools in St. John Parish — “We’ve already applied for funding to add more schools,” said Breech — it is not limited to students.

For parents, the program offers GED and computer classes as well family resource and wealth management services. All this has its roots, however, in enriching the lives of the students.

In the end, Breech said she and her team are not trying to mold these students into who they or anyone else thinks they should be, and that is perhaps the ultimate goal of the program — to create productive individuals.

Said Breech, “We let them be who they are.”