Heart & Soul of West St. John: Belinda Bailey honored for 47 years of teaching

Published 2:52 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2022

EDGARD — In 47 years at West St. John High School, Belinda Bailey has shaped generations of world changers with decades of mentorship, wisdom and guidance.

Friday, April 1 was proclaimed “Ms. Belinda Bailey Appreciation Day” as faculty, students and community officials gathered for a surprise celebration inside the West St. John gymnasium.

“She is not just educating. She is building a community,” West St. John Principal Claude Hill said.

Bailey was recognized with proclamations from St. John the Baptist Parish President Jaclyn Hotard and State Representative Randal Gaines. On behalf of the St. John Parish District Attorney’s Office, Assistant District Attorney Orenthal Jasmin presented Bailey with an Excellence in Service Award.

Hotard said it is an honor and a privilege to give special recognition to Bailey for 47 years of service to St. John the Baptist Parish through education. Reading a proclamation on behalf of St. John Parish administration, Hotard said, “She has fostered an environment that empowers students to strive for excellence, and her legacy will live on at West St. John High School for generations to come.”

Bailey’s journey as an educator began after she graduated from Edgard High School in 1971 and received a bachelor’s degree in education from Southern University in 1974.

Nearly 50 years later, it’s hard to imagine that Bailey didn’t always dream of becoming a teacher.

“When I went to college, at the beginning, I wasn’t going for education. I was in electrical engineering,” Bailey said. “I found out I didn’t like it. I had a friend who had a sister at the school for the deaf. On Fridays, I would go and get her. When the kids came around, I realized I liked this. Then I went to Southern Lab School, and I started teaching over there. I loved it.”

Bailey’s foundation in engineering helped her become a math teacher. Since beginning her teaching career in 1975, Bailey has inspired, engaged and shaped the minds of generations of students as a classroom teacher, a mentor teacher, a curriculum teacher and a master teacher at West St. John High School.

“What I love most is to see my kids go out and do better than me,” Bailey said. “I’ll do anything I can to help them out. I would even go to court, to jail, wherever those kids need me to go.”

During the ceremony, Bailey was treated to a video with comments from many of her former students. Now adults, the former Rams thanked Bailey for making a subject like math easy to learn. They praised her mentorship and caring nature.

One former student said, “You have been exactly what we’ve needed. Your passion is unparalleled. Your dedication is unmatched. Your sass and spunk sets you apart, but makes you totally relatable.”

Principal Hill said Bailey has more energy than the 16-year-olds who walk the hallway. He added that “everybody has a Belinda Bailey story,” and the testimonies shared in the video represent only a small portion of the impact she has had at West St. John.

Dr. Lynett Hookfin has only been superintendent of St. John Parish Public Schools since 2020, but she has known of Bailey for much longer. While attending school at Grambling State University, she noticed that everyone in her classes from Edgard fondly talked about their high school math teacher, Ms. Bailey.

Arriving in St. John Parish years later, Hookfin thought the Ms. Bailey at West St. John couldn’t possibly be the same person. She looked so vibrant and beautiful, and so much time had passed. Yet, when Hookfin saw Bailey zoom past her in the hallway, ponytail flying behind her, Hookfin thought to herself, “Yeah, that’s her.”

Hookfin asked Bailey to stay with St. John Parish Schools for as long as possible.
“We usually don’t speak about people unless something happens. This is a day to speak about someone who is still with us, someone who is about the business of children and nothing else,” Hookfin said. “Where would we all be if we had a Belinda Bailey in every classroom? It takes a Belinda Bailey to care, to not only teach, but to preach, call parents, do all of the above to make school work.”

School Board member Charo Holden presented Bailey with a tree representing the deep-rooted legacy she has built at West St. John. She reflected on the qualities of a great teacher, especially one who instills more than textbook knowledge.

“You reared us as if we were your own,” Holden said. “You are the heart and the soul of West St. John High, 47 years and counting.”