LSU School of Social Work Teams with Community Partners for Adopt a School Zone Initiative at Istrouma High School
BATON ROUGE – The LSU School of Social Work is teaming with more than 50 community partner organizations to help combat poverty and school dropout rates within the Istrouma High School community through the Entergy Louisiana Adopt a School Zone Initiative.
The announcement came during a press conference held Oct. 3 at the school.
“Today, Istrouma High School joins forces with business, community members, education leaders, non-profit organizations and government agencies with a very ambitious initiative,” said Linda Lewis, principal of Istrouma High School. “This initiative is the first of its kind in Baton Rouge and, perhaps, in the state. We’re all familiar with the African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Today, the village takes responsibility.”
According to information from Entergy Louisiana, the Adopt a School Zone Initiative is a groundbreaking new program that aims to help alleviate poverty for students and families at three academically unacceptable high schools in low-income neighborhoods. Goals of the initiative include increasing graduation rates and reducing dropout rates to state levels in line with state goals; to coordinate community and social services to students, teachers and their families; to engage the business community and local universities to bring their talents and strength in numbers to advance positive education and social outcomes; to promote best practices and proven initiatives that area already in place; and to provide a low-cost, replicable model for other schools.
Lewis said that the Istrouma Adopt a School Zone Initiative is modeled after a similar program implemented in Harlem, a borough of New York City, and has experienced great success.
“Just as Harlem is successful with its initiative, there is no doubt in my mind that the Istrouma Adopt a School Zone Initiative will be a model that will be replicated throughout the city of Baton Rouge,” she said.
LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said the mission of land grant universities such as LSU and nearby Southern University includes reaching out to the community as well as training students.
“We have a special mission as land grant universities, and that’s to do exactly what we’re doing today – creating partnerships, alliances and commitments that transcend the short term and make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “We are committed long term to building alliances, which will make people’s lives better in current times and into the future. LSU takes that demand seriously”
Martin said that solving the problem of poverty can only be done through a concerted effort by all members of the community.
“Obviously, if this were an easy task, we would have solved poverty a long time ago. If this were an easy task, we’d have 100 percent graduation rate across the state. It’s not going to be an easy task,” he said. “The good news is that the right combination of organizations and individuals is coming together to stay the course and make a difference. For me, that’s a hopeful sign.”
Pam Monroe, a professor in the LSU School of Social Work and project leader with the initiative, said that the school’s involvement is part of its long-term commitment to the Louisiana Poverty Initiative.
“We’re involved in a lot of different projects, but this is one of our biggest right now,” she said.
LSU is managing the community development phase of the program through the Turning the Tide on Poverty program, and will continue with Entergy’s future Adopt a School Zone Initiatives in other parts of the state, she said.
Monroe said she will work with to keep the school’s students, parents, teachers and administration involved with the initiative’s progress. She will also help with an evaluation portion of the program, to document evidence of its success.
“I like to describe my role as ‘community organizing,’ making sure the collective voice of the students, parents and school personnel is represented in this project,” she said.
One of the Istrouma initiative’s first acts took place immediately following the press conference, as volunteers helped students in the school’s new Agriculture Club to create a community garden on campus. The project, aided by the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H program, is intended to teach students responsibility and focus on science and math, as well as to provide fresh and healthy produce to those within the community who may be in need. Volunteers also assisted the school’s librarians in stacking new books within the library.
The LSU School of Social Work is adapting the Turning the Tide on Poverty model to define communities as those areas surrounding local high schools, Monroe said. These pilot program sites would create a dialogue to take action against poverty and low graduation rates.
Martin stressed the importance of this initiative, and what its success could mean for other schools and neighborhoods in the Baton Rouge area and beyond.
“At great universities, we change and learn. From that learning, we teach and then we change and learn again,” Martin said. “This is not only an exercise at Istrouma and in this neighborhood. This is an exercise of creating new knowledge and new ways to solve the problems that reach well beyond this neighborhood and taking that message to help elsewhere, just as we’ve learned from others.”
East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent of Schools John Dilworth, who said that he came from an impoverished upbringing, challenged the students of Istrouma High School to “not let a zip code, a letter grade for a school or your current condition determine what you’re going to do and where you’re going to be.”
“As wonderful as this collaboration is, it means nothing if you don’t have a dream, work ethic and a will to make sure you’re successful in life,” Dilworth said to the students. “It starts with you.”
The initiative is guided by Entergy Louisiana and an appointed steering committee. Members include representatives of LSU, ExxonMobil, Capital Area United Way, East Baton Rouge Parish Schools, Education’s Next Horizon, the Louisiana Department of Education and Object 9.
For more information on the Istrouma High School Adopt a School Zone Initiative, contact Monroe with the LSU School of Social Work at 225-578-1374 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact Sonya Gordon, public information officer for East Baton Rouge Parish Schools, at 225-922-5611 or email email@example.com.
To learn more about the LSU School of Social Work, visit www.socialwork.lsu.edu.