Parish schools kickstart new college readiness initiative

Published 7:27 am Sunday, November 7, 2021

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VIDALIA, La. — Concordia Parish Schools are launching a new program in January to prompt more high-schoolers to prepare for college.

Toyua Watson, Superintendent of Concordia Parish Schools, said the district’s sophomores will soon be part of the new initiative that would encourage them to take their ACT exams early and join a dual enrollment class that would be “spoon fed” to them with the help of alumni acting as student mentors.

Watson said the idea to launch this program was born when she and school board members Rev. Raymond Riley, Derrick Carson and Dorothy Parker met with school leadership and leadership at Southern in what she called an “opposite meeting.”

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“We meet all the time about students who’ve fallen behind, but this particular meeting was about our high-fliers and any opportunities they might be missing out on,” Watson said.

The group discussed ways to help students improve ACT scores and better their chances of getting into their dream college. One issue was that students typically did not take the ACT until their junior or senior year using vouchers, which sophomores are not eligible for. Taking the test multiple times allows students to improve their score, as the best scores from each portion of the test are combined to give students one super score, Watson said.

“We didn’t want money to hold them back,” she said.

The initiative, called “Sophomores take Southern,” is offered through a partnership with Southern University in Baton Rouge.

“We are going to pay for our sophomores to take their ACTs early. That’s $47 they can keep,” Watson said in a school board meeting. “And we’re going to start them in dual enrollment with one class, the fine arts class, that will be spoon fed to them. For every 10 students, there will be one mentor. This is a community service project so we’re calling for alumni to be the mentors.”

Watson said the ACT reimbursement is funded by the CARES Act and the class is funded in part by state funds allocated specifically for dual enrollment.

Volunteer alumni coaches would do a virtual pop in to check on students periodically and make sure they are on track to succeed in the course, she said.

Unlike with regular online dual enrollment courses that are typically taught by adjunct professors, Watson said students will also have the opportunity meet their college professor from Southern twice in the semester when he visits them at their high school campus.

To be eligible for the class, students must have a 2.5 GPA or higher and must take the ACT in their sophomore year. Friday was the deadline for students to sign up for the December ACT in for the students to start dual enrollment in January, Watson said.

The district started informing students by meeting with sophomores at each school last month.

“We wanted to make sure they knew that even if they do not go to Southern University, those credits would transfer to whatever school they choose. This starts their college transcript that they will take with them beyond high school,” Watson said. “Our goal is to have at least 30 sophomores in the district participate. Right now, our biggest number of students participating is at Monterey with 11 students and I’m still waiting on numbers from Vidalia High School.”