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|WM chamber hosts second 'poverty' summit|
Dozens of local teachers took part Tuesday in the second segment of the "Framework for Addressing Poverty" program to get a better understanding of how to help at-risk students.
The program is being spearheaded by the West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce, along with Ouachita Parish Schools, the city of West Monroe and the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
Over the summer hundreds of school teachers throughout northeast Louisiana joined law enforcement officers and others for the first seminar. The program is geared toward helping them better communicate with children from impoverished backgrounds.
Tuesday's event included mostly teachers from Ouachita Parish Schools.
Dr. Robert Rausch of Atlanta, Ga., was invited to visit with local teachers for the three-hour long seminar. It was held at West Monroe High School.
"Dr. Rausch specializes in time management, positive attitudes and working in situations that are very challenging and stressful," said West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber president Mary Ann Newton. "He helps teachers and people in industry maintain their levels of productivity and as well as keep a positive attitude. He was very gracious to come here and work with the teachers that Dr. (Bob) Webber (Ouachita Parish Schools superintendent) has begun enrolling in this program."
Many of Ouachita Parish's first-year teachers are enrolled in the program, Webber said.
He believes the program will go a long way in teaching teachers how to help impoverished students. He said many first-time teachers fresh out of educational programs have not taught in at-risk schools. So, when they are first placed in these schools, some teachers may have difficulty working with at-risk students.
According to Webber, the parish school system's at-risk student population continues to rise.
"Our poverty level in Ouachita Parish has been on the rise over the last five years," Webber said. "We are now over 50 percent free and reduced lunch, which is the basis you measure at-risk by. So we are talking about a lot of our kids who come from struggling families."
He commended the efforts of the West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber, especially Newton's desire to help Ouachita's young people.
"Mary Ann Newton and the West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber have always been here for our parish school system in any way they could possibly help us," Webber continued. "I know Mary Ann and the chamber have a heart for poor children, so they work often with the children in our at-risk schools to help those children who need the help the most."
He said it is important to help all of Ouachita's students but even more important to help those who do not have the means for tutoring services or even adequate medical treatment.
The school-based health clinics at Riser School and West Monroe High School have helped address some of the medical concerns among these at-risk students, Webber said.
The Ouachita Parish School Board plans to open a school-based health clinic at Richwood High School in the near future. The school board would like to have a clinic in each of its schools to better address the health needs of students.
"Those school-based health clinics have been a tremendous help with our absenteeism," Webber said. "They help kids who many times are unable to go to the doctor."
Newton said that while it is important to address the needs of at-risk students, it also is just as important to better prepare teachers to help these students.
"When we started working together we found out one of the needs was with the teachers because we always concentrated on the kids," Newton said. "There were a lot of teachers, whether first year, second or third, placed in a school which was a totally different environment than what they were familiar with. And, they were working with children who came from poverty, neglect and abuse. That's pretty intimidating for someone who doesn't know anything about that. So this is an effort to help those teachers and keep them more focused on the job at hand … to be better teachers and help the kids in a better way."
Webber added, "A lot of times they (teachers) don't come from that type of environment themselves, and they may do their student teaching in a different environment. Then, all of a sudden, they are hired at an at-risk school, and they don't quite understand their students all of the time. That's why this is will be so helpful because they will have a better understanding of the problems those children may have and a better understanding of how they can help them."
Ouachita Parish Schools has invited other school systems to these events so the entire region will benefit, Newton said.
"So, even though the people from Ouachita Parish and West Monroe are funding this project, Dr. Webber has opened the door to everyone across northeast Louisiana," Newton said.
Members from the community and technical colleges, police departments and area businesses joined local teachers Tuesday to take part in the second seminar, Newton said.
"There are a lot of people here who work with kids living in poverty, and they will benefit from this program, too. We haven't just kept it to educators. We've invited people from all factions of the community," she said.
The next "Framework for Addressing Poverty" program will deal with the current dropout rate throughout Louisiana.
Currently about 18,000 students drop out of school in Louisiana each year.