College tour increases exposure to higher education opportunities

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, July 27, 2022

LAPLACE — A new partnership with Volunteers of America Southeast Louisiana is introducing students at East St. John High School to new possibilities for the future.

Last week, 15 students selected to participate in the Summer College Tour boarded a bus and toured three universities in northern Louisiana. Volunteers of America covered all expenses for the two-day educational journey, which aimed to provide youth with much-needed exposure to higher education opportunities.

Students on the trip ranged from sophomores to recent graduates. According to East St. John Assistant Principal J. Vincent Brown, students were chosen based on a variety of criteria.

“We had students who are performing above grade level expectations, students who have not yet chosen their interests after high school, and students who are interested in college but did not know what colleges have to offer,” Brown said.

Keisha Smith, business teacher at East St. John and organizer/chaperone for the trip, said the college tour opened a world of possibilities to students who don’t often venture outside of the region.

“Students really don’t get that much exposure to other colleges except the ones that are around here like LSU, Southeastern, Nicholls, Southern. We wanted to bring them up north to show them there are other schools they can go to in Louisiana, not that far away from home, and still have great opportunities,” Smith said.

The Summer College tour kicked off Wednesday, July 20, with visits to Grambling State University and LA Tech. After an overnight stay at a hotel, students enjoyed breakfast bright and early before boarding the bus to travel to Northwestern State University. Later that evening, they returned home to St. John Parish, fueled with inspiration and goals for the future.

According to Smith, students were particularly intrigued by the aviation and engineering programs presented during the tour of Louisiana Tech.

Rising junior Jahkira Fontenberry was excited to explore academic opportunities at northern Louisiana universities. As an aspiring healthcare worker, she was interested in learning about Grambling State University’s stellar nursing program.

“I was excited to go because I’m about to graduate not this year but next year. I thought it would be a good resource to start looking into colleges now, before my 11th grade year,” she said.

The partnership with Volunteers of America also includes a mentorship program that will continue into the school year. According to Brown, the intent is to help students find pathways to college while utilizing coping skills and mechanisms to tackle issues affecting teenage life.

John Sillars, vice president of resources and marketing for Volunteers of America Southeast Louisiana, said the program provides students guidance on making good, healthy decisions throughout their high school years. Students are encouraged to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

The program is offered at East St. John in addition to other schools in Volunteers of America Southeast Louisiana’s 16-parish service area.

Sillars considers the two-day Summer College Tour a wonderful opportunity for students to consider how they would like to spend their post-high school years.

“The college trip was a great opportunity to share with students who may not have had a chance to visit these schools,” he said.

Brown looks forward to the continuation of the program.

“As we continue to try to strengthen our academics at East St. John and expose the students in the parish to college and some of the other choices that are out there, it’s very important that we continue to give them opportunities for that exposure,” he said. “We are indebted to Melissa Haley and the Volunteers of America for choosing us to participate in this program. This is the first time a venture like this has been done.”

Smith said a second college tour is being planned, possibly for the month of September. While the last tour focused on northern Louisiana, the next trip will extend beyond the state lines.

“We are going to try to go toward Mississippi and show them some other schools like Belhaven, Jackson State, Alcorn that aren’t that far away,” Smith said. “It gives them the opportunity to see they can go out of state and still be close to home.”