Giving Back: Parents recharge East St. John PTO

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, October 28, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

RESERVE — As parents started filling the former Leon Godchaux cafeteria this month, Paula Henderson knew something exciting was happening.

Henderson can hardly contain her enthusiasm when talking about the event, which was the third meeting this year of the East St. John High School Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).

“We started the meetings off in a classroom laboratory,” Henderson said. “We had about 40 or 50 people at the very first one (in August), and that filled out the classroom. We had people standing. (Principal Patricia) Triche said, ‘Wow, this is awesome. We’ll move the next one to the cafeteria.’

“The second meeting we had around 120. Then last week, we were just blown out. They were standing in the cafeteria. It’s a grand accomplishment for East St. John, because we haven’t had a PTO meeting in two years (before this school year). We’re looking for a bigger turnout, and we’ll probably take over the gym.”

Henderson, who has 10th and 11th grade sons attending East St. John, is serving as PTO president — and with the help of a committed board of parents and involved school staff — leading a resurgence in parent involvement at the school.

The organization is hoping to attract parental support while providing student recognition and informative college preparatory presentations.

During the group’s October meeting, all students who maintained a 4.0 grade point average were recognized, along with Student Council members and the 2014-15 Homecoming Court.

Guest speaker Tammy Cox spoke about breast cancer awareness, Irene Hebert spoke about college preparation information and the school’s band members performed a second line march, celebrating ESJ Beta Club members.

Henderson said it has been difficult for the PTO to thrive since Hurricane Isaac because the 10th, 11th and 12th graders are at Leon Godchaux, while ninth graders are separated in the Freshman Academy near the site of the damaged East St. John High campus.

She credited the support of Triche, who Henderson described as “awesome,” and a dedicated group of counselors — including Damecca Jones, Carol Mills, Tia Cambre, Elizabeth Leatherwood and Coy Boe — with creating excitement and substance at each PTO meeting.

“I love to take part in getting involved in student activities and sports,” Henderson said. “I thought this would be an opportunity to work with the teachers, the staff and the principal to try and get parental support back to East St. John like it used to be in the past.”

The group’s next meeting starts at 6 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Leon Godchaux campus and is open to all parents, guardians and supporters of ESJ students.

Outside of Henderson, the parent-led board is made up of Emma Morris, Daniel Johnson, Traci Gray, Sharone Evans and Kim Holmes.

“Even 200 parents (for attendance) is not enough,” Henderson said. “Our goal is to get at least a parental support of 500. We have a lot planned for students. We’re going to try and get Christmas trees donated to the student body to decorate the outside of the campus to beautify what we have. Our goal is to get that important scholarship information out to parents so they can prepare their kids on the right track. We want to make sure they know what is out there.”