‘Follow the right path’: Dupont mentoring Fifth Ward students

Published 12:12 am Wednesday, October 12, 2016

RESERVE — When Fifth Ward Elementary School science teacher Rochelle Darville received an invitation to bring a group of students to a Black History program at Dupont last  year, it came as a bit of a surprise.

“It was the first time in years that Dupont had reached out to Fifth Ward,” Darville said. “They said they wanted to get more involved in our students’ lives.”

Dupont is proving that.

The River Parishes chemical company has begun a new mentoring program with the school in an effort to help guide students through their education and to help them reach their full potential.

“I was very happy that someone was taking an interest in our students,” Darville said.

The children, she said, were a little more surprised.

“We gave (the children) the invitations to bring home to their parents,” Darville said. “They were asking, ‘Why? Why me?’”

Fifth Ward principal Darnean Brown said the children had to meet a certain criteria.

“They were deemed at-risk,” Brown said. “Children who had been sent to the Redirection School for certain things, or Red Zone kids who just needed a little guidance. We want to try to help them stay in school and follow the right path.”

Darville, along with Brown and other faculty members selected a group of 14 children between the ages of 11 and 13 for the program — seven boys and seven girls.

Dupont, in turn, has put together a team of employees, including mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, lab workers, project coordinators, safety and environmental staff and production technicians.

“It’s just a way of giving back to the community and letting them know we see the potential in them,” said Dupont employee Gordon Taylor.

An initial meet-and-greet was held recently to introduce the mentors to the children and their parents. The students were asked to fill out questionnaires and a round table discussion was held.

The mentors said the goals of the program are to expose the students to new things, allow them to learn more about the jobs they do, provide a positive foundation with the parents, make learning fun and help students focus on their potential.

“We want to help you understand that every one of you is great,” mentor Ashton Richmond told the students at the first session.

“There is nobody who exists that is just like you. You are just starting to experience peer pressure and it’s just going to get worse. We want you to understand that the risks you may be taking could move you away from being great.”

The Dupont team will meet monthly with the children to offer advice on everything from their education to life skills, including public speaking, proper attire and how to fill out an application. Future plans include field trips to the LaPlace plant and a college visit.

Ivan Caldwell, Dupont plant manager, said the idea for the mentoring program grew from community input, as well as the realization the Reserve area has some of the lowest involvement in Pathways in Technology career programs.

“The goal for us is to reach out and be a part of the community, but also to help show them what kinds of opportunities are available to them,” Caldwell said.

“You learn things in school, but then you ask, ‘how does that apply?’ Also, if a kid does want to be a mechanic or an operator at Dupont, they can see, here’s the route to get there.”

St. John the Baptist Parish school leaders are excited as well.

“I can’t tell you how important it is to tell our students that what they’re doing now relates to what these adults are doing today,” St. John schools superintendent Kevin George said.

“It shows they care about this community and they care about this school.”

Darville said the children who participated were very excited, as were their parents.

“I had one mother tell me, ‘everything y’all are doing is great,’” Darville said. “She could see a difference in her son just from last year.”

Kourtney Batiste, whose twin boys are in the program, said she is appreciative of Dupont’s efforts.

“I want to say thank you for what Dupont is doing for these students,” she said. “They could have clocked out and gone home but instead they are here.”

— Jennifer Boquet contributed to this report.