May Stilley, Director of the Ponchatoula Student Outreach Program, says she’s always encouraged those wanting to go into Education while cautioning, “If it’s for the money, you can forget it. The pay is the look on a child’s face when it lights up with understanding. That ‘I-got-it’ look of joy. Nothing beats that!
“And that’s what this program is all about,” she continued. “As more parents learn about it, they’re asking how to get their children involved. Enrollment for the after-school program is based on schoolteacher referrals for the student who needs extra help.
“With access to the student’s report card, the teachers and I analyze the needs.
“Learning abilities vary and sometimes all that’s needed to improve grades is extra individual attention. Other times, if no progress is made, such as when F’s continue, those students are re-evaluated and other avenues become their answer. We help parents get started in that process.”
Stilley says often it’s not a learning issue but low self-esteem that leads to behavior problems and low grades. While focusing on academics, she and the teachers include social skills to make well-rounded and productive citizens.
Going into the second half of the school year with 42 students, something new has been added and is generating lots of interest.
Always looking for community resources to introduce to the children, Stilley realized one of the best is already downstairs in the Community Center every day – Senior Adults!
Consulting with Ponchatoula Area Supervisor of Council on Aging, Paula Dunn, she asked about the possibility of pen pals.
Dunn caught the vision, asked her Seniors about participating to share memories from childhood, then supplied Stilley with names for students to write an introduction letter. A special mailbox holds the letters and “mail call” generates much excitement among both groups.
Especially touching has been the interaction between a third grader and a widow with no children. After learning what a “widow” is, the child wrote with no prompting, “You said you had no children. Well, you do now. ME.”
A fifth grader was thrilled to find a pencil, a marker and a little note pad with her letter.
Because the two generations are never present at the same time, plans are underway to have a “revealing” in conjunction with the May 7th year-end family celebration.
In the meantime, Stilley says a big need is for more volunteers. Key Club members and Education students from SLU have helped provide the one-on-one instruction but a lot more help is needed. She extends a special invitation to individuals, churches and organizations looking for community projects. Just “show up” and she’ll find a job for you whether it’s an hour now and then or every afternoon Monday through Thursday — with the children or elsewhere.
She adds, “When Mayor Zabbia asked me to come out of retirement to work with City Human Resources Manager, Lisa Jones, to develop the program, I thought I’d be here a year or two. But my heart took over early on and it’s hard to believe I’m in the middle of the third year!
“Being Director of the Student Outreach program is an amazing job,” Stilley says with enthusiasm. “But being an Educator is not really a ‘job’– it’s a ‘calling’.”
To volunteer time, talent, services or donations, call May Stilley at (985) 401-2210 or Lisa Jones at (985) 386-6484