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Back to School in Baton Rouge


Thursday found the Back to School team in yet another state as they left the magnolias of Mississippi for the cypress trees of Louisiana. A packed Wednesday didn’t stop NEA President Lily Eskelsen García from being up bright and early and at the studio of Baton Rouge’s WBRZ to talk to anchor Kylie Dixon about the need to ensure every child, regardless of zip code, has the opportunity to succeed.
But García wasn’t content with just one opportunity to talk about public schools, so the team made it over to WAFB in time for another morning TV appearance even before the sun came up. García joined Lauren Westbrook to discuss the need to eliminate the kind of standardized tests that actually hurt students, and was proud to hear a round of agreement from the anchors on set.

As daylight broke, García and the team traveled to The Dufrocq School, a public Montessori School in East Baton Rouge that is on the National Register of Historic Places. García visited and read to classes taught by Diane Vickers and Marcia LeCompte, Angelica Johnson and Mona Myles, and Veronica Anthony and Jamie Allelo. After chatting with some Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) members at Dufrocq, García and the team headed to the renowned McKinley High School, also in East Baton Rouge.

McKinley is the alma mater of the legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy, and beginning in 1907, was the first public school in Louisiana for African American children. Despite being overcrowded and under-resourced, McKinley was truly one of the most inspiring stops on the tour as García and the team discovered diversity and inclusivity across the campus.

Students noted the importance of diversity in making McKinley feel like a family, both inside and outside of school. The school offers students 23 advanced placement courses and an array of clubs including a recently established Gay-Straight Alliance chapter. Art teacher and LAE member Ventress Cofer, among other educators, welcomed García into her class and showed off her students’ talents as they created smoking awareness artwork. García remarked that McKinley is the perfect example of educators giving 110 percent for every student regardless of how few resources they are given to work with.

The team ran a little over schedule at McKinley because they just couldn’t pull themselves away from such a fantastic, diverse, inclusive general enrollment school where every student has the opportunity to succeed. They arrived at a luncheon with area legislators where García conveyed her awe at the amazing education received by students at McKinley and the Dufrocq School, praised them for fighting for Louisiana public schools in the legislature, and encouraged them to keep up the fight.

García next traveled to the Louisiana Radio Network’s studios for a 40-minute interview with legendary Louisiana journalist Jim Engster. Engster has interviewed nine governors of the state as well as President Bill Clinton and Vice President Dick Cheney. Engster, García, and live callers to the show spent the better part of an hour discussing the pride all Louisianans should have in what educators do for students in their public schools, the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the struggles many educators face with student debt.

The Back to School team capped the long day off with a dinner meet and greet at LAE headquarters that proved to be one of the most emotional events of the tour. Last month marked the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation reaped upon swaths of the state by the storm. Educators from Orleans and other coastal parishes shared with the crowd not just the horror they experienced through those August days, but how their fellow Association members helped one another pull through and even survive. What began as an impromptu story-telling session became a moment where professional colleagues expressed profuse gratitude for one another and everything members have done over the past decade to help progress the recovery effort.

After García received some generous parting gifts, including a basket of Louisiana flavors (and a pit stop for some grub), the team set off to Lafayette for one final day on the 2015 Back to School tour.

Back to School Louisiana - Wrap Up

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