‘Connections’ program celebrates milestone

Published 12:08 am Wednesday, May 13, 2015

RESERVE — The St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District celebrated a milestone April 30 when it honored its first group of students who will graduate through the Connections program.

Connections is a process for overage students to receive targeted instruction and accelerated remediation aimed at helping them attain a high school diploma.

Students begin the Connections program at the St. John Alternative School during their eighth grade year and take middle and high school classes simultaneously so they can enter high school with some credits and graduate in three years instead of four. The program also incorporates summer school and working with counselors and advisors to help students stay on track.

The 16 Connections students, who will graduate from East St. John High School this month, entered high school in 2012. Their plans after graduation include two-year universities, four-year universities and the military.

“Four years ago, we were looking for students who had potential but, at some point, something went awry. Now, you get to embark on your life a year earlier,” Heidi Trosclair, the district’s executive director of assessment and accountability who is in charge of Connections oversight, said during ESJ Connections Cohort No. 1 Celebration. “We believed in you then and we believe in you now.”

May 2015 graduate Elijah Whittington said he was one of the students who had let the obstacles in his life wear him down.

The son of a single mom struggling to provide for three boys, Washington said the family moved around so much it was hard to keep up with school work.

“I was honestly going to drop out I was so far behind,” he said. “When this opportunity arose I decided to take it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”

Whittington will soon leave for basic training with the National Guard, which he plans to use to fund his education when he returns.

Tija Jackson said she was a 16-year-old student in eighth grade at Garyville-Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet School when she realized her younger cousin was moving on to high school without her, motivating her to give Connections a try.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. “But I pushed myself and realized it’s easy.”

Now 19, she plans to attend South Central Louisiana Technical College in Reserve to become a licensed practical nurse.

Trosclair is hoping the success stories of this first group of graduates will serve as inspiration to students trying to decide whether to embark on the Connections journey.

“I was talking to some students the other day and when I told them they could graduate in three years the air went out of the room. They didn’t believe it,” she said. “Some of these students will be going to St. John Alternative to speak to these students to show them it can be done.”