Program teaches students to not drop out

Published 11:37 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2009

VIDALIA — Local business and civic leaders headed to Concordia Parish schools this week with the goal of convincing students to make the right choice and stay in school.

A joint effort between the Concordia Economic and Industrial Development District and the Concordia Parish School District, the CHOICES program sent elected officials and representatives from local businesses into the eighth grade English classroom in every parish school.

The theme of the program was “The key to success is self-discipline,” and the presenters spoke with students about time and money management, and how decisions they make about their education and free time now can have repercussions far into the future.

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“I really enjoyed it, because I am only 24, and I feel like I’m not too far removed from that age group, so I can relate to the fact that if you hang out with the wrong crowd it can have an effect,” Anytime Fitness Manager and CHOICES presenter Aaron Kelly said.

In one activity, a student pretended to drop out of school and get a job that paid $9 an hour. But before they were allowed to spend it, the student was required to pay taxes, rent, utilities and food bills.

“You just had to see the look on their face when they realized the student had run out of money and hadn’t even started to address the fact of something like paying for a car,” Kelly said.

In another activity, the students were shown that even though from their perspective it may seem like they are in school forever, it is only a small part of their lives.

To do so, the presenter stretched a timeline across the room showing them how much life they had after school compared to how much time they would spend in school.

“When the students saw that they were only spending that small amount of time in school and saw how far reaching the choices they made in those first 25 years of their life can be, a lot of them went, ‘Oh wow,’” LSU AgCenter Family and Consumer Sciences Agent and CHOICES presenter Ashley Powell said. “I don’t think they had thought about it that long-term.”

The program also looked at how the students’ decisions could affect their world.

And while the program is about helping the individual, it can also be seen as a pre-economic development effort, CPEIDD Executive Assistant Jamie Burley said.

“If you have the trained people for the type of businesses we need here, then we can bring those businesses in,” she said. “But if we bring the businesses in and we only have high school dropouts, they’re not going to have anyone to hire.”

The decision to bring the program to the parish followed a conversation with Concordia Parish Economic Director Heather Malone, Concordia Schools Academic Director Paul Nelson said.

“One of the things we talked about was trying to get students to realize that they need to start thinking about their future sooner and have realistic goals,” Nelson said.

During the conversation, Malone mentioned that she had done CHOICES in her previous job, and Nelson told Malone Concordia Parish College and Careers Transition Coordinator Cheryl Probst might have funds through some of the programs she coordinated to bring CHOICES, he said.

“I said, “I can get both of you together and see what you can do, and from there they ran with it,’” Nelson said.

Probst said the partnership was a perfect combination because she could bring the educational perspective to the table while the economic district could bring the business contacts.

And Probst said she’s hopeful that partnership will pay off.

“Hopefully, we can get some students to think about (the consequences of) dropping out of school,” she said. “If we convince one student to stay in school, then good.”