One volunteer can’t fix school alone

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The precious little ones at West Primary School are the doctors, lawyers, burglars and shooters of tomorrow.

In anywhere from 10 to 30 years these children will be among those charged with either leading our community or destroying it.

And, though it’s awful to say, the teachers at the school can probably make some educated guesses about who will be in a business suit behind a desk and who will be in stripes behind bars.

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What if the future criminals outnumber the future leaders?

That’s the question our community needs to contemplate while there is time to make change.

Arella Bacon is 67 years old.

And from picking up litter to educating children, she’s done it all for the Natchez community.

She is a diabetic who says she volunteers from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day so she won’t have time to eat the foods that could kill her. But anyone who has dealt with Bacon knows it’s her heart — not her sugars — that drives her.

Bacon has a plan for the future of Natchez, and it’s easy enough to follow.

But the key to developing a solution is first identifying the problem.

In Natchez, specifically in the Natchez-Adams School District, the problem first and foremost is a lack of parental support.

Administrators and teachers have preached it for years and I’ve witnessed it first hand, as has Bacon.

Not all parents are bad. And, of the ones that might fit the label “bad,” many are disabled by a lack of education or a lack of money.

Enter Bacon’s plan.

West Primary has 13 kindergarten classes this year.

Each class needs one responsible, educated, caring adult willing to make change — a sponsor, so to speak.

Bacon has already semi-adopted one class, so that only leaves 12.

These 13 — Bacon included — can very well be the start of a revolution.

Each class sponsor needs to make a visit to the home of one child in the class.

The sponsor doesn’t need to wear a business suit and show off their degree. He shouldn’t knock on the door intent on showing his smarts and volunteerism, and in turn make the parent feel dumb or inferior.

He just needs to begin building a relationship.

You see, many parents in the Natchez area don’t want to be bad parents. They just don’t know how to be good parents. They haven’t been taught.

Many students at West Primary were born to unwed, teenage mothers. Still more belong to parents who may not have had great parental role models themselves.

These parents need to learn the simple things, Bacon said.

“Things like how to reward your child,” she said. “You don’t have to always buy them something. Sometimes a good old hug will do.”

The 13 sponsors can begin teaching these things.

Then, quickly, a parent who has learned a few tricks of the trade can become the “sponsor” to another parent in the class.

Then those two can go to two more houses.

Simple math shows you how quickly such a movement could multiply.

Bacon’s focus right now is West Primary. We have time to change those children, she says. But we have to start now.

“One person can’t do it all,” she said.

But 13 can start it.

“We’ve got to go for parents,” Bacon told the Natchez-Adams School Board last week. “Go from house to house and ask the parent, ‘Will you please come out. I will help you with your children if you will come out.’ Truly, today, our school system can be better if we start with our babies.”

The 13 must be kind-hearted, patient, persistent and able to set anyone at ease.

Bacon is No. 1.

Are you No. 2?

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or