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Ponchatoula Student Outreach Adds Exciting New Incentive

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

Ponchatoula’s Student Outreach Celebrates National Event

Ponchatoula’s Student Outreach Celebrates National Event

By Kathryn J. Martin

Thursday, October 24, Ponchatoula Community Center was abuzz with excitement when loved ones joined their children to participate in the annual “Lights On Afterschool” celebration.

The national Afterschool Alliance organized the event twenty years ago and is America’s only national rally for afterschool programs.

More than a million people were expected to be involved at some 10,000 locations for the evening to celebrate the program’s success as well as its 20th anniversary.

Showing support for this educational outreach, such landmarks as the Empire State Building, Times Square, parks, etc., were bright for the evening with blue and yellow lights.

At the local level, Professor Gadget from Mad Science held the attention of adults as well as students as he performed what looked like magic tricks but explained along the way as “science”.

First Lady Kim Zabbia was so amazed at his teaching skills, she complimented him by saying, “If I’d had you as a teacher in school, I would have definitely majored in Science!”

Having three children of his own, the professor knew how to hold attention and had eager volunteers, including every student at some point, individually and collectively in teamwork.

“Volunteered” by the children’s exuberant “Ma-yor! Ma-yor! Ma-yor!” and “Li-sa!, Li-sa!, Li-sa!” were Mayor Bob Zabbia and Human Resources Manager Lisa Jones, who along with Director May Stilley, have made the afterschool program dream a reality.

Contained in the presentation was encouragement to “do schoolwork, learn something new every day and show appreciation to those who care for you.”

In real life “Prof” said his wife was an engineer with the Corps of Engineers in Dallas and he was in the mortgage industry but both were looking for ways to give back to their community.

When they discovered “Mad Science”, they knew it was for them and relocated to New Orleans. They “perform” at parties, schools, zoos and library functions and look forward to being  part of parish library summer programs.

Everyone enjoyed a delicious meal with Jambalaya prepared by Donald Lanier and Jimmy Schliegelmeyer and other foods brought by parents and teaching staff.

Parents interviewed beamed as they expressed appreciation for the Ponchatoula Afterschool Outreach Program and the big positive difference it is making in the lives of their children.

After a rousing family game of Bingo, the city’s third annual “Lights on Afterschool” ended on the same positive note it had begun – a celebration of success.

Ponchatoula Student Outreach Celebrates Second Year of Success

The City of Ponchatoula again participated in the national “Lights On Afterschool” event with its “Family & Friends Night” at the Ponchatoula Community Center for a time of celebrating the growth and positive results of its own after-school program. Called “Ponchatoula Student Outreach,” the program’s motto is “From Afterschool to Bright Futures” and according to reports on improvement in behavior and grades, the future is looking much brighter for some who have needed that extra encouraging nudge.

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