This year, we focus our annual Back to School Guide on keeping your kids healthy while getting a good education. Countless studies show that children who eat nutritious food, get plenty of physical activity, and sleep well simply feel better, which improves their ability to focus on their schoolwork, retain what they learn, and succeed in their academic environments. This special section is packed with tips to improve and maintain your child’s physical and mental wellness, from the classroom to the playground.
A letter to the Calcasieu Parish community.
I am honored to serve as the new Superintendent for the Calcasieu Parish School Board. I have worked for the Calcasieu Parish School Board since 1997, serving as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Academic Officer. My wife, Angie, and I have three children – Courtney, Madison, and Logan – and I am proud to say that all three are products of CPSB.
My thirty-two years in education have seen many changes, but the last two years have seen a significant shift in how we deliver and receive educational services. Emerging from this shift is how we integrate and leverage technological devices, platforms, and resources so that we can amplify the instruction in the classroom and provide access outside the classroom. We are committed to literacy efforts and in providing a high-quality curriculum delivered by highly qualified teachers. In today’s world, our education environments must create opportunities for innovation, creativity, curiosity, and exploration that are grounded in foundational literacies necessary for all learners to flourish. We must empower and inspire our students, our teachers and staff, our leaders, and our communities to continue the commitment to the next generation of learners so that they are prepared for today’s jobs and jobs of the future.
In our quest to provide this environment for our students, we must prepare and plan extensively to ensure that our campuses are safe and secure to the greatest extent possible. It will continue to be a top priority for all of us as we enter the 2022-2023 school year. In our continuous efforts to improve and grow, we are spending time this summer bolstering our safety and security measures already in place. It is important to us to make necessary updates and shifts in all realms, including in the protective measures of our campuses, to ensure we are taking a proactive approach during these changing and challenging times.
We are excited for the new year to come, and our staff is working diligently this summer to better our district before welcoming students back in August.
-from Dr. Shannon LaFargue, CPSB Superintendent
by Stefanie Powers
It’s back-to-school time! There’s so much for parents to consider as they ready their children for the new school year. Keeping them healthy is at the top of the list. We asked Dr. Albert W. Richert, Jr. of The Pediatric Center of Southwest Louisiana for his advice.
First, a balanced diet is important. “Avoiding sugary foods and drinks is probably the most important dietary recommendation I can make,” Dr. Richert says. “Sugar has made its way into so many products these days that most children are consuming much more sugar than they should, and parents don’t even realize it. Much of it comes from sugary drinks, such as sodas, sweet tea, and sweetened juices.”
Dr. Richert says that we should all be eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day but agrees that most of us struggle to follow that advice. “There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that most kids will eat, but when given a choice between a cookie or an apple, many kids pick the cookie,” he explains. “Parents can help by limiting the number of sugary foods in the house and having plenty of fruits and vegetables available.”
Next, there are many health benefits associated with daily exercise. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one hour of physical activity a day, but many kids don’t get that much,” Dr. Richert says. “Parents can try to help by encouraging fun activities, such as swimming, bike riding or playing at the park. Parents can also be role models. Kids are more likely to be active when they see their parents staying active and getting some exercise. And of course, setting some limits on electronic devices can encourage kids to find something else to do.”
Dr. Richert feels that most children do not require vitamin supplements. “Even picky eaters can usually get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables,” he explains. “Vitamin D and calcium are important for healthy teeth and strong bones, and both are easy to get from dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese) and other foods. Even if your child does not consume dairy, it’s usually possible to get plenty of calcium from things such as orange juice fortified with calcium. With that being said, if you’re worried that your child’s diet is deficient in calcium or vitamin D, it is perfectly acceptable to give a daily kid-friendly multivitamin.”
Regarding immunizations, Dr. Richert supports the immunization requirements of the Louisiana Department of Health. For information on immunizations, search online at Vaccinations needed to attend school/La Dept. of Health.
And coming out of the pandemic, Dr. Richert recommends a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone who is eligible to receive one. “I have no idea what’s going to happen with COVID-19,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s coming back or going away. I don’t know if it will get worse again or not. I just know that the vaccine is safe and is the best defense we have against future shutdowns and disruptions to our lives.”
To make an appointment with Dr. Richert, call The Pediatric Center of Southwest Louisiana at 337-477-0935.
Life gets busy once school resumes, so the slower days of summer are a great time to make an appointment for your child’s next dental visit. Ideally, according to Erin Moore Seale, DDS with Seale Family Dentistry in Lake Charles, a child’s dental care should begin a year prior to preschool. “Children should visit a dentist within six months of the eruption of the first tooth or by age one, whichever comes first.”
Early dental visits are generally non-invasive and largely conversational. A first dental visit usually involves a cleaning, fluoride treatment, and a general evaluation to check for things like cavities and eruption patterns. The dentist offers parents oral hygiene tips and answers any questions they may have. “Prevention and early intervention are the goals,” says Dr. Seale. Dental cavities are the most common disease affecting children. Early detection of cavities or a high risk for developing cavities allows for more conservative treatment modalities such as topical application of fluoride to arrest further decay. Preventive and conservative treatments are available when problems are detected early. These treatments are economical, very effective, and lead to fewer and non-invasive dental visits.”
Dr. Seale recommends parents brush their young children’s teeth with a soft bristle brush using a rice size smear of toothpaste for children aged 0-3 and a pea size smear for ages 3 and up. When two teeth touch, it’s time to start flossing.
Even though children lose those baby teeth, dental care is important in the years leading up to permanent teeth. “In the majority of cases, maintaining baby teeth until they are replaced by permanent teeth is essential for proper growth and development of the lower third of the face,” adds Dr. Seale. “Baby teeth allow for proper development of the muscles involved in swallowing, speaking, and in obtaining proper nutrition. Additionally, keeping baby teeth for an appropriate amount of time is the best way to maintain space for permanent teeth, allowing them to erupt in a more ideal position. We see a much lower incidence of cavities in adults whose teeth are in proper alignment.”
For more information, Dr. Seale refers parents to the website mouthhealthy.org, sponsored by the American Dental Association and provides research-based information to the public. To make an appointment with Seale Family Dentistry, call 337-474-0212. Located at 1430 W. McNeese St., Lake Charles.
by Kristy Como Armand
Children tend to need medical care more than adults. From colds and earaches to sports physicals and injuries, kids need consistent, quality care. With so much time spent in the exam room, it’s important to find a healthcare provider both you and your child can trust.
If you do not already have an established healthcare provider for your family, you may be wondering if a pediatrician or a primary care specialist will better fit your older child’s needs. Both pediatric and family medicine specialists can treat children, but when should a child transition to primary care? Guillermo Family Medicine Clinic, part of Imperial Health, makes this shift easier by offering adolescent-centered care starting at age 11.
“Many adolescents tend to feel they don’t have a place of their own when it comes to healthcare,’” says Kari Hankins, FNP-C with Guillermo Family Medicine Clinic. “As a comprehensive family medicine clinic, we felt it was important to provide both a place and specific care for adolescents in a way that will grow and evolve with them as they become adults.”
Hankins explains that they provide routine care for adolescents such as school and sports physicals and treatment for illness and injures. “But we also provide risk assessment and wellness education. Parents and adolescents get anticipatory guidance about risk factors and health concerns, and steps to take to address these. I also meet one-on-one with the patient – the child – so they can feel free to talk about things they may not be as comfortable discussing in front of their parents. In addition to keeping our patients healthy and thriving, my goal is to teach them to have an effective relationship with their healthcare provider and empower them to take the lead in their own healthcare as they become adults.”
There are other benefits to caring for the entire family in one practice. Providers gain an in-depth understanding of the family’s medical history, which can help with early detection and prevention of a variety of medical conditions.
“Developing a rapport with adolescents where we normalize talking about health-related issues serves a lifelong purpose,” says Hankins. “We’re teaching them to take an active role in their health and wellness that will continue throughout their life.”
Guillermo Family Medicine Clinic is located in Lake Charles at 501 Dr. Michael DeBakey Dr., 2nd floor. To make an appointment, call 337-419-1958
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly seven percent of school children younger than age 18 have a diagnosed vision condition. Even though newborns undergo a vision screening soon after birth, many children develop problems with their eyes years later. During the month prior to heading back to the classroom can be a perfect time to have your children’s vision evaluated.
A good place to begin is with advice from your pediatrician. If a problem is suspected, he or she can perform a vision screening and refer you to the appropriate specialist for further evaluation, if needed. A child who has eye misalignment, pain, or itchy eyes; keeps books or electronic devices very close to his/her face; or has trouble with schoolwork should have his/her vision screened. It is recommended that even children with no obvious signs of vision loss undergo screenings that vary by age. This allows issues to be caught early before problems begin. The American Optometric Association recommends that children receive comprehensive exams by optometrists around age six months, at three years of age, before entering first grade. and then every two years thereafter.
Each school year parents try to figure out who’s in which classroom with all the fervor of a fantasy football draft, hoping their kids haven’t been assigned to a group, team, or classroom with “those” kids—the mean, the cliquey, the ones who dictate the terms of how the year will go. Kids know who they are, and so do parents. We all know, but we often don’t take action to stop the problem. We talk around it.
Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed., a mother and personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them, says there are three misconceptions about social cruelty and bullying that she hears from parents time and again.
“Kids will be kids” and all kids “can be mean.”
We should wait to talk to the teachers, the school, or the parent of a child who treats others this way, hoping time will resolve the problem. Parents of a child who bullies, as well as parents of children who are victims, or silent bystanders, have little or no influence over their child’s behavior and there is nothing they can do. Maguire argues that all of these are not true. “The idea that kids will just figure it out on their own—that they need to do so—has a long, miserable and misguided history. When we believe ‘there’s nothing we can do,’ we leave children to bear the burden. They need help. Every child needs to believe that change is possible. And they need the social skills to do it.”
Bullying, cliques, and exclusive behavior doesn’t come from a few bad apples, and it’s not just a fact of life. It’s the result of kids having been bullied themselves, suffering low self-esteem, lacking empathy, or lacking the emotion regulation skills they need to manage their feelings and impulses. Children aren’t born bullies, victims or uncaring bystanders. Problematic social behavior is a sign that a child needs help, not harsh judgment. Adults can teach kids to develop empathy and ways to manage their feelings in situations that make them feel helpless, scared or defensive. The skills to thrive socially and with kindness are teachable if only someone takes the time to teach them.
McGuire says we’re quick to tell kids to stand up to bullies, to intervene, and call others out on the playground or elsewhere when bullying and cliquish behavior occurs. “Kids are getting the message: be upstanders, not bystanders. But it’s up to us to show them how to do it. We are our children’s first and most powerful teacher and coach for upstander behavior.”
McNeese State University strives to create a healthy and thriving campus community where students flourish. Whether it’s a yoga class at the Recreational Complex, a vegan meal in Rowdy’s Dining Hall, or simply some tips on how to adjust to college life, McNeese offers a variety of free on-campus resources to help its students enjoy lifelong health.
The Recreational Complex helps students stay active, even when they’re trying to juggle classes, work, and life in general at the McNeese Recreational Complex. With an indoor track, Olympic-size pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, weights, wellness screenings, exercise classes, and an intramural sports program, students won’t run out of ways to stay fit.
Healthy, balanced meals help students study and feel their best. In addition to the traditional cafeteria food, there are several nutritious dining options such as a salad bar, cauliflower pizza crusts and vegan meals. Students with dietary restrictions or allergies can work with the dining director to meet their dietary needs.
The Office of Accessibility Services provides academic support services for emotionally, physically, and learning impaired students and accommodations for all enrolled disabled students as recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The office offers services such as monitored testing, interpreters and notetakers for students with disabilities who qualify for these accommodations.
The Counseling Center assists students with personal, developmental, academic, and mental health needs. College life presents new and difficult challenges to all students – stress, test anxiety, relationship issues, alcohol, drugs – and licensed professional counselors work to help them learn to navigate, manage, and resolve these challenges.
Student Health Services is an on-campus health care resource that provides preventative care, education, and resources to help currently enrolled students live a healthy lifestyle. Outpatient services include treatments ranging from minor cuts, bruises, and sprains to testing for flu, UTIs and STDs. Last school year, there were over 1,200 visits. Registered nurses are on duty and doctors maintain daily clinic hours. To continue to meet the health care needs of the McNeese community, building renovations are currently underway on the corner of Ryan Street and Sale Road thanks to a property swap between the McNeese Foundation and JD Bank. The facility will house McNeese’s Student Health Services and Counseling Center in one accessible space on campus as well provide an urgent care facility staffed by Ochsner Health to serve students, faculty, staff, and the public.
The university’s mission is “to change lives” by giving its graduates the tools, knowledge, and confidence to go forward and make a life, make a living, and make a difference in their communities. McNeese recognizes that the health and well-being of its students are as important as their academic success.
According to Stanford Children’s Health, there are over 3.5 million children who sustain sports-related injuries every year. Around 70% of kids who play organized youth sports quit by the time they turn 13. It’s time to see the red flags. Parents of a school-aged athlete can help them to avoid being injured and becoming burned out, leading to a longer love of and participation in sports.
“Many parents start out seeing how their child loves a particular sport, only to be surprised when they either walk away from it altogether or they end up with injuries,” says Coach Sarah Walls, personal trainer and owner of SAPT Strength & Performance Training, Inc. and the strength and conditioning coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. “But by taking a proactive approach, this can largely be avoided. I’ve worked with many young athletes and have helped them avoid injuries and hold onto that passion for the game.”
Research published in the journal Orthopedic Clinics of North America estimates that 30 to 45 million children participate in organized sports each year. Along with the increase in the number of children participating in sports, there is an increase in the number of injuries that take place. They estimate that over half of all youth sports-related injuries each year are due to overuse, which is an injury that results from constant stress without enough recovery time.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, overuse injury is damage that happens to the bone, muscle, ligament, or tendon from repetitive stress without giving the body time to heal. They report that overuse injuries have four stages: pain after the activity, pain during the activity that does not restrict performance, pain during that activity that does restrict performance, and chronic, persistent pain even when at rest.
The other issue plaguing many young athletes is burnout, which is the mental changes that can affect performance. Signs of an athlete being burned out include performance changes, lacking motivation to play the sport, no longer finding enjoyment from playing it, and having emotional changes. Burnout can happen when an athlete is too focused on one particular sport and not taking adequate breaks from it, as well as from the pressure to be too competitive.
“Over the last generation or two there has been a big emphasis on raising star athletes,” added Coach Walls. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are some precautions and steps people should take so that it doesn’t lead to problems. You want your athlete to be happy playing sports, reduce injury risks, and to play for years to come.”
Located in Fairfax, Virginia, SAPT Strength & Performance Training, Inc. is a high-performance training club that specializes in helping to develop athletes of all ages. To learn more, visit the site: www.saptstrength.com.
For kids across the country, back to school means back to a regular sleep schedule. Gone are the lazy, hazy summer routines of going to bed late and sleeping till noon. The back-to-school sleep transition can be challenging, and sleep experts encourage parents to ease their children into the routine several weeks prior to the start of the school year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a good night of sleep improves a student’s focus, concentration, and overall academic performance. Good sleep also wards off diseases such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, depression, and injuries.
There are two general types of sleep: rapid eye movement, or REM, and non-REM sleep. Both types are necessary for optimal learning. REM sleep is vital for consolidating memories so they can be retrieved later, a key cognitive function for learning. It’s also important for proper growth and development. Non-REM sleep is more restorative, helping to keep the mind and body awake and alert during the day.
Educators today wear many hats. In addition to imparting knowledge, grading papers, and meeting federal and state educational mandates, they serve as peacekeepers and protectors; listeners when a student needs someone to talk to, always ready with a box of tissues for those occasional tears. They offer advice, opinions, perspectives, and life experience that can be as beneficial to students as any well-constructed curriculum. Being a good educator requires commitment, enthusiasm, and a love for children that can’t be learned in college education courses but brought to the classroom through their hearts. In this annual feature, we spotlight these respected educators with the intention of bringing awareness to the exceptional, vital role all SWLA educators play in the lives of our children.
art teacher, Vinton Middle School
Zaner Dellafosse grew up in Crowley, Louisiana, and graduated from McNeese State University in 2019. During college, Zaner says she met amazing individuals who encouraged her to be the “art-tastic” teacher she is today. For example, the women in her sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., helped her form a strong work ethic. Zaner interned at the Henning House Cultural Center, an art gallery in Sulphur, La. “Through my involvement in their community Second Saturday program, I had an opportunity to instruct my first art lesson. There were so many other individuals throughout my time at McNeese who helped shape me as an educator.” Zaner is currently the art teacher at Vinton Middle School and Calcasieu Parish School Board’s Middle School Teacher of the Year. She is also the cheer and yearbook sponsor. Zaner says she fell in love with art as a teenager. “I was going through a lot of changes and had a lot of built-up anger about where I was in life. I felt trapped and unheard in a place where people expected me to be what they wanted. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. So, I conformed. Art was my way of releasing the anger and sadness I felt. It also gave me a way to express things that I had a hard time saying. These experiences inspired me to help other kids who feel the same way I felt.”
I know I’m fulfilling my calling in life when I see a student express difficult experiences through art. For example, I have seen a student illustrate depression. That was beautiful! Especially, seeing that student talk about their design and then seeing other students talk about their journey with depression. Art can definitely save lives, if we give it a chance.
My biggest challenge is patience. I have many goals for my art class, yearbook staff, and cheer team. Many of these goals take time to develop. I would love to incorporate art therapy into my lessons. However, I feel the classroom environment must aid in this goal. It took me two years to develop the right environment with the help of music and social contacts. Patience is key, but it is also a challenge.
The greatest issue facing students today is being heard. I have many students who come to see me during their lunch hour, just because they want to talk about something that is bothering them. I feel other teachers should strive to be an outlet for students to express themselves.
student counselor, Immaculate Conception Cathedral School
Cassi Grinton grew up in Lake Charles and has a history at Immaculate Conception Catholic School (ICCS). She attended ICCS from kindergarten to eighth grade and now her two children both attend ICCS. Cassi has served as a counselor at ICCS for nine years and says she always felt compelled to work with children. “Before my time as a counselor at ICCS and while working on my master’s degree, I was a forensic interviewer for the Children’s Advocacy Center where I worked with victims of physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and witnesses to violent crimes and domestic violence. I gravitated toward the field of education because I wanted to continue my role as an advocate for elementary-aged children.” Cassi attended McNeese State University and earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Master of Education degrees.
I enjoy building trusting relationships with my students. I love seeing them in the hallways, greeting them by name, asking about their new siblings, pets, and sports events, how classes are going, and complimenting their new haircuts. Their smiles, hugs, high fives, and greetings bring me significant joy each day.
Over the past few years, I have noticed a tremendous increase in the level of anxiety in children. While this trend has been on the rise nationwide since the start of the pandemic, our area has experienced further distress after hurricanes and other natural disasters that left many of our families displaced for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, given the recent incident in Uvalde, I expect to see this anxiety continue.
I believe a significant issue that students currently face is access to phones, social media, texting, etc. Connection to peers, especially in adolescence, plays a role in a child’s identity and staying connected during the pandemic became especially difficult. While these platforms can be beneficial with tight boundaries, as a forensic interviewer and a counselor, I have witnessed interactions with dangerous individuals online, exposure to inappropriate content, and difficult social situations that children do not yet have the skills to navigate through on their own. I support the “Wait Until 8th” movement which emphasizes the importance of delaying smartphone use until 8th grade. Parents are the primary educators of their children and conversations about safety and healthy use of social media and devices should begin at home. Educators can assist students in navigating this issue by reinforcing and building upon these conversations. The most important factor is open and consistent communication.
Gifted and AP English teacher, Sulphur High School
Andrea “Andi” McFarlain, a native of Southwest Louisiana, both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Education and Gifted certification from McNeese State University. She’s been an educator for 26 years and currently teaches gifted and Advanced Placement English Language and Composition (juniors) and English Literature (seniors), and a newer program – Educators Rising – for high school students considering a future in education. Andi jokingly tells people she became a teacher because she “didn’t have a choice.” She adds, “God created me to be a teacher, so here I am. I do love it! I’ve always wanted to help people, but I pass out when I see blood, so the medical field was out. When I was younger, I would force my sister to play school – I was always the teacher. I would also critique my teachers (in my mind) about what I would and would not do as a teacher.” Andi is the current CPSB High School Teacher of the Year.
I live for the relationships I am able to establish with students. I love guiding them through life’s twists and turns. I believe teaching literature sort of lends itself to discussions of valuable life lessons. The best thing is hearing from a former student that something they learned in class spoke to them later in life.
If I can close my classroom door from all the outside influences and just teach, I’m in Heaven, but at some point the outside gets in. Keeping up with the demands of the district and the state has become impossible. Worse than that, though, is knowing we can’t save every kid. Seeing a kid slip through the cracks – even after they are adults – is painful.
These kids need real relationships. I’m not talking about significant others; I mean that they need to see there are adults who love and care for them, who VALUE them. And we, as those adults, need to model how healthy relationships work. We can’t just leave these kids to their own devices online in a virtual world, which is a much crueler world than the tangible one. People talk quite a bit about the mental health crisis, and some want to say it’s not really that bad. I see it in my classroom every day. It is real, and I think that my generation is partly to blame. So, we’ve got to fix this by establishing valid, compassionate relationships with these kids who are desperate for mentors.
librarian and District Advisor for Student Council, Sam Houston High School
Vickie Barto has lived all her life in Moss Bluff. She attended McNeese State University and earned her undergraduate degree in Health and Physical Education, certifications in Special Education and Library Media Specialist, and a Master’s degree in Educational and Instructional Technology. She has worked in the field of education for 34 years, initially in Special Education and then as librarian for the past 16 years. Vickie also teaches Leadership classes and sponsors Student Council. She is currently the district’s High School Librarian of the Year. “I was the kid who loved going to school, and the Lord blessed me with wonderful teachers and coaches who impacted my life in positive ways. It was my dream to impact others in that same way.”
Every student wants to know that you care about them as a person. When they know you care, they feel safe and are willing to learn. As educators, we never know the impact we have on students at the time. We just keep doing what we know is best for our kids and believe that what we’ve done has made a difference.
Educators are overloaded with the demands of their job description. I think BESE board members should have extensive experience teaching in the classroom. If they are going to make laws that pertain to teaching, they need to know what’s currently going on in our world. Another challenge is that basic parenting skills have been lost to technology babysitting. It is easy for parents to forego their responsibilities to the TV, iPad or computer. What happens on those devices is not always healthy for the child. I’m not saying that all technology is bad, because it’s not. But it is misused a great deal and is something that needs to be monitored.
Their cell phones! They have become anti-social slaves to the little 3 x 5-inch computer screen they stare at many hours a day. Most have lost the communication skills that would normally be acquired through everyday interaction during school hours, regular home life, and outdoor play. Social media has taken the place of face-to-face interaction, leading to a record number of mental health issues among teens including anxiety, depression, co-dependency, drug, alcohol, and tobacco addictions. Most parents are unaware of what is happening on their student’s social media accounts. Educators can only encourage parents to be aware of what’s happening out there and monitor their child’s phone usage.
counselor, LeBlanc Middle School
Ryan White grew up in DeQuincy and has continued to live in Southwest Louisiana. He earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Psychology and Counseling from McNeese State University. After graduation, this 16-year education veteran spent a few years working with CPSB’s Special Education Department in area schools. After his program ended, Ryan took a counseling job at a mental health provider. “It didn’t take long for me to miss working with students, administrators, and teachers,” he says. “The next school year I took the leave position of a teacher I had previously worked with and later moved over to school counseling.” Ryan is currently CPSB’s Middle School Counselor of the Year.
I get to be an active part of a group of people who have come together because of our desire to help kids be successful academically and socially.
Lack of family support in some situations, stubborn thinking, burnout.
Anxiety. Even before a global pandemic, two category 4/5 hurricanes, an ice storm, floods, and multiple school shootings, anxiety was a major issue. Put all of that in a blender on top of all the anxiety that is developmentally appropriate for adolescence, and spin with social media. It’s a lot more than what we dealt with when we were kids. It would help educators to remember that all this is running in the background of a student’s brain at all times and to take that into consideration when dealing with any situation, whether in the classroom, cafeteria, or principal’s office. When appropriate, it helps for students to understand that we are dealing with some of the same trauma from the past two years, have some of the same feelings, and that we’re all in this together as a community. This validates the students’ feelings and shows them that we, like them, can only bring the best we have available that day with us to do our jobs. The structure and consistency that we provide in the school environment may be the only stability that students have left. Practicing coping skills such as deep breathing, letter writing, and drawing don’t require anything other than what’s already in the classroom. School counselors are on campuses to help with these types of issues. We just need more time to work with students and less paperwork and data entry assigned to us so that we would have this time.
English teacher, St. Louis Catholic High School
John Dugas was born and raised in Gueydan, La., which he describes as “a very small city in Vermilion Parish known as the Duck Capital of America.” He graduated from McNeese State University and has been a teacher for five years. John will teach English III and English III AP this coming school year. John says he met several teachers in middle and high school who later influenced his decision to pursue the field of education. “My high school English teacher’s praise regarding my creative writing helped build my confidence at an important time in my life. I struggled with certain aspects of being a teenager and that eventually led to depressive episodes that I fought on my own. Her words of affirmation regarding my writing ability really kept me going in high school. This teacher was the primary reason I entered the field of education.”
The most rewarding role as a teacher is the opportunity to be a student. That sounds paradoxical, right? I have found that just listening to students has been an invaluable asset as a teacher. The ability to learn about students helps to humanize them, and I can customize my teaching style to their specific needs.
The challenges, in my experience, usually stem from extenuating circumstances outside of our control. The severe weather events coupled with COVID-19 have created challenging moments for educators. Students are shifting back to in-person classes that stress punctuality. This is to be expected, but some students may still be in survival mode outside of our classroom. I find that to be a large issue and one I try to address by just listening to students.
I think the greatest issue that students are facing today is the limited scope of textbooks used in many classrooms. The “classics” like Dickens and other authors are invaluable, but I think it is problematic to throw such texts at a student and expect a deep connection with the text. Educators can navigate this shift by giving students some choice with what they read in class. Programs like CommonLit have high engagement short stories to ignite the long-dormant creativity found in each student. Short stories, and other popular texts, can be a bridge to the classics often read in classrooms. I have seen people, even family members, reiterate how important it is that students adapt to classroom expectations and reading assignments. While that is true, I believe that educators also need to adapt our expectations and in-class texts to create a deep love of reading.
principal, A.A. Nelson Elementary School
Adam Caldwell was born in Mississippi but moved with his family as a baby to Lake Charles. Growing up, his father, mother, and grandfather were all educators. He has a brother, uncle, aunt, and cousin who all work in education. Adam’s wife is a school counselor, and his daughter is considering becoming a teacher. “I’ve been surrounded by the field of education,” he says. “Luckily, I love it, and it suits my strengths well.” Adam earned a master’s degree from McNeese State University in 2008 and is currently working on a Doctorate in Educational Leadership at Lamar University. He has worked for Calcasieu Parish School Board (CPSB) for 20 years, 15 of those years in administration – first as assistant principal and the past six years as principal at A.A. Nelson Elementary. He is the current CPSB Elementary School Principal of the Year.
I love the originality associated with my job. I am tasked with creating a joyful work environment while maintaining high expectations. I employ educators that embody the same optimistic, youthful enthusiasm for the profession. My administrative career has been prolonged by the wonderful people at A.A. Nelson Elementary. Our approach to our work can motivate and inspire anyone to accomplish seemingly unreachable aspirations.
The teacher and administrator shortage will make major headlines soon. The problem will continue until a concerted effort is made at the federal and state levels to combat the scarcity of educators. The gradual exodus is a combination of many societal and political matters that impact the spirit of educators. There are short-term issues related to the pandemic and hurricanes, but those will resolve in the coming years. The biggest challenge in the next five to 10 years is reestablishing the workforce and training talented individuals to do this gratifying yet difficult work.
Our lives have progressively become faster and more complex because of technology, societal dynamics, and modern-day financial pressures. Our children feel the burden of increased family stress and seemingly less time with one another. As school leaders, we want all kids to arrive with their social-emotional needs satisfied. Unfortunately, we receive many children in need of physical and mental prerequisites. Our teachers supply academic content while filling the rest of the voids for our children. Many students cannot overcome their environmental circumstances, and it is heartbreaking for educators to witness. However, with the help and support of caring teachers, some students break through and disrupt the cycle. Those people tend to have unique perspectives and undeniable, internal drives. I admire those individuals, and occasionally, I get to hire them.