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Ogden Honors College Recognized for VIPS Partnership

The LSU Ogden Honors College was recently recognized as Partner of the Month by the East Baton Rouge Parish School System at the December School Board Meeting for their long-established work with Volunteers In Public Schools (VIPS).

This partnership between VIPS and the Ogden Honors College spans ten years, beginning with the establishment of the Louisiana Service and Leadership program (LASAL). LASAL provides students with the tools to become local change agents, specifically through addressing the issues of poverty and coastal erosion. Co-Directors of the LASAL Program Associate Dean Dr. Granger Babcock and Director of Career Development Cindy Seghers have spearheaded this initiative through developing and implementing a service-learning component of the program that encourages students to get involved in their community.

Dr. Granger Babcock speaks at the School Board Meeting.“When LASAL was launched in the fall of 2008, Granger and I thought it was important, if not imperative, that students participate in service-learning, especially since a focus of LASAL is the issue of poverty,” Seghers said.  

One of these community initiatives Babcock and Seghers promoted is EveryBody Reads, a 20 year old program of VIPS, which partners an elementary school child with an adult, called a Reading Friend, who assists with improving reading skills. This adult meets with the student once a week for about 30 minutes where they spend time with books. Over time, the student’s reading skills, confidence and pleasure in reading improve.

“Children learn to read from kindergarten through second grade,” Seghers explained. “But they read to learn from third grade on, and, if they are not up to grade level reading, they continue to fall behind and experience failure. Studies have shown that being accountable to a caring adult is the single most significant factor in student success, and EveryBody Reads accomplishes that.”  

As Honors students began to partner with the EveryBody Reads program, Seghers and Babcock saw their education-based outreach as a fundamental part the LASAL program’s goal to produce responsible and globally-aware leaders.

“A major tenet of truly understanding anything is proximity, so going into the EBR schools, meeting weekly with a young student, and developing a relationship with that student put a ‘face’ to the issue of poverty and educational needs,” Seghers said.

“LASAL has been partnering with VIPS for more than a decade because we believe in its mission, and because it is our responsibility to help young people in the Baton Rouge community,” Babcock added.

EveryBody Reads continued to be a major success for VIPS, and the Honors College partnership allowed LASAL students to engage with their community in an impactful and valuable way. Then, in 2012, Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway was chosen for the Honors College Shared Read. Urrea’s book explores the issue of immigration from a variety of perspectives. Aligning Urrea’s critical text with a service-learning push, the Honors College recruited students to become English as a Second Language (ESL) tutors in EBR Parish public schools.

Madeline LeBlanc speaks about her experience with VIPS.

Today, VIPS actively recruits Spanish speaking volunteers for the increasing number of bilingual students in the school district. Partners in Education Coordinator Lynelle Dixon explained that students with a background in Spanish are valuable to EBR, as they help to meet a critical need in the parish. Seghers agreed.

“Students who worked with the ESL program experienced much of the same rewards as Reading Friends,” she noted. “They worked with students who were in a classroom with little or no understanding of the English language, and made sure these students understood the material and would not fail the class.”  

At the School Board Meeting, Dixon introduced the Ogden Honors College by sharing a letter from Francisca Adjei, ESL Instructional Specialist at McKinley Senior High School. According to Adjei’s letter, Mina Posey, ELL Coordinator at Westdale Middle School who partnered with volunteers from the Honors College, provided information about “the long-standing collaborative efforts” between LSU and EBR Schools to support English Language Learners.

Adjei wrote that the volunteer tutors spend their time assisting ESL students, helping them to acquire academic vocabulary, and developing skills and concepts in core content areas by providing oral and written explanations of classroom notes and instruction. In addition to helping students with assignment and project completion, they also monitor and provide support to students as they work on Khan Academy and CK12.

“Our students often seek the support of our tutors,” Adjei said. “McKinley teachers collaborate with our LSU Honors College tutors, oftentimes sharing class notes and study guides in advance to help our tutors prepare to work with students. I am extremely thankful for the invaluable support we are receiving. Our tutors are enthusiastic and genuinely concerned about our students.”

Senior Madeline LeBlanc, a Coastal Environmental Science major, has been volunteering with VIPS for four years.  

“The Honors College has given me the opportunity to go into to community and make a difference in the lives around me,” she said. “Spending time in local schools and having personal, meaningful interactions with the students as a Reading Friend have helped to connect me to the community and have been incredibly rewarding.”

Recent graduate and VIPS volunteer Lexus Hector agreed. 

Lexus Hector speaks about her experience with VIPS.

Working with VIPS began as just another requirement in the Honors College. I was just starting out in LASAL and didn’t have a good grasp on the impact the this service-learning experience would have on me throughout my college career and beyond,” she said. “VIPS allowed me to see the impact that just a few hours of enrichment can make for a child.” 

According to Seghers, Honors students involved with VIPS grew substantially in their understanding of public school issues and poverty. She also noted that some students continued voluntarily visiting their Reading Friend even after the class requirement was complete.

“Their commitment to their Reading Friend was impressive, especially as they saw reading skills improve, confidence grow, classroom behavior improve and a child beam when their Reading Friend showed up.”

Babcock added that this introduction to volunteerism for Honors students has positive results that extend beyond the classroom.

“VIPS is an excellent community partner,” he said. “The training and experience it provides our students is invaluable.”

For Seghers, the value of encouraging Honors students to meet the community in their space, on their time, and where they are reinforces the mission and vision of the College, which aims to foster a cohort of dedicated leaders.

“With both programs, our students committed to a basic principle of giving their time, resources and knowledge to another human being for the single purpose of helping that person become all he/she could be,” Seghers said. “They exemplified the true meaning of ‘giving back’ with no expectation of ‘what’s in it for me?’”

Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, Ogden Honors College. For more information, email jacquelined@lsu.edu or call 225-578-0083.