‘Respect is Just a Minimum’ program concludes with graduation ceremony

Published 12:17 am Saturday, June 3, 2023

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LAPLACE — A recent graduation ceremony marked the conclusion of “Respect is Just a Minimum,” a pilot program that introduced high school students to mentorship and instruction related to conflict resolution, health and wellness, financial literacy, and empathic understanding.

Through her work in the 40th Judicial District Court, the Honorable Nghana Lewis has seen a need to uplift students who have the potential to be successful but lack the proper support. Thirty-five St. John the Baptist Parish students with an identified need for support were invited to participate in 10 weekly sessions from the end of January through mid-May.

The program was funded through a $119,000 grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice. St. John Parish Councilwoman and educator Tyra Duhe-Griffin was selected to serve as the program administrator, while Dr. Adrienne Dixson served as the data analyst.

Of the 35 students invited, 30 chose to participate. According to Lewis, 21 of the students participated in at least 90% of the weekly sessions.

The following students were recognized during a graduation ceremony May 25 at the Lloyd B. Johnson Training Center in LaPlace: Latonyah Antonio, Brea Augusta, TyTionna Belvin, Stesy Cadet-Ortiz, Taddeus Cammon, Evania Cortorreal, Dae’vin Deville, Javon Duhe, Quinci Durio, Darrion Gales, E’rone Gray, Jakyrin Green, Kenveon Harrell, Andreanna Holland, Sasha Madden, Amaya Nicholson, Braniya Pierre, Anaya Shepherd and Jan’e White.

The first hour of each session gave students the opportunity to enjoy a meal and relaxation time with peers before transitioning into the instructional component and closing out with an assessment. Exit interviews were also utilized to gauge the impact of the program on participants.

“My cursory review of some of the data indicates they were able to comprehend the content and that they benefitted from the program,” Lewis said, noting that it is still too early to measure the long-term efficacy of the program.

She added, “I would love to have a part two with a new class, and I would also like to have a structured way to keep in touch with the young people who graduated to see if they are applying what they have learned.”

During each session, students were able to engage with leaders in the community who provided valuable insight on each of the main topics.

Dr. Brittani McClain Breaux and Dr. Keneitra Brown, both graduates of East St. John, lectured during the health and wellness component. Toliver Freeman, a third-year student at LSU’s School of Medicine, spoke about healthy lifestyle choices and risk factors of heart disease. Among the topics discussed was the importance of knowing your family tree as it relates to medical history. Dressing for success was a sub-theme of health and wellness. Students learned about the importance of their attire from local attorney Danielle Smith Heath.

Pastor Laurie Adams of Voice of Truth Ministry spoke about empathic understanding, urging students to put themselves into the shoes of their parents and their peers. Empathic understanding went hand-in-hand with lessons about conflict resolution, which included a lecture from local business owner Dana Bardell Wallace. Meanwhile, local attorney Rosalyn Duley and accountant/business owner Demetria Robinson-Carter spoke to students about the fundamentals of financial literacy such as saving, spending and investing.

“It was a safe space for the children to feel comfortable asking questions,” Lewis said. “They were always engaged, most of the time respectful and attentive. They seemed like they benefitted from the opportunity not only to engage with the adults in the room, but also with one another.”

Organizers of the program are also thankful to local restaurants including Salad Depot, Raising Canes, Matherne’s, and BRS Seafood for providing meals for the students.

“Special thanks to the program staff who comprised a fantastic team that enthusiastically and consistently ‘showed up’ to support our youth,” Lewis said. “Many thanks, as well, to the Office of Juvenile Justice for funding the program; St. John the Baptist Parish School Board, superintendent, and director of Child Welfare and Attendance, for making space available; St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office and Resource Officer Darlene Cooper, for making sure that everyone arrived and left safely; and to the youth participants for their brilliance and dedication to the program.”