TFAE Celebrating Success in Terrebonne Parish

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In a small room within the Terrebonne General Medical Center, members of the Terrebonne Parish were recognized for the efforts in academic success.

The Terrebonne Foundation for Academic Success held its “Celebrates Success” event in which it awarded students, educators, and an influential community member for their efforts in promoting intellectual growth.

TFAE is a nonprofit organization which provides funding for academic resources to foster academic excellence in public education, according to their website.

Students were the primary focus of the event honored for their academic gains in the face of life’s struggles.

“You could look them in the face and see them sit at there desk with a heaviness sometimes in their heart, or just a tired look – a worn out look, but they still gave their day 150%,” said Angie Rome Walsh, Executive Director of TFAE. “They stayed involved, they joined clubs, they were involved at their church, their community, but they had some bad stuff going on at home, or in their life. But instead of letting these obstacles drag them down and use it as an excuse, they used it as a stepping stone to be successful.”

According to Walsh, TFAE contacts the schools with their intention to honor students who have faced obstacles in their lives while still fulfilling their studies. The teachers of high schools within Terrebonne, including Louis Miller Terrebonne Career and Technical High School, then nominate 6 students. Bayou Cane Adult Education nominates 3. All students must have had a 2.5 GPA or better.

Then TFAE has board members, business men/women, and retired educators choose 11 from the nominations, said Walsh, and award them the title of Distinguished Scholar.

These students were asked to write essays about themselves and the challenges they faced in school. These essays were kept anonymous and read by the board members in front of the audience.

Walsh said the essays are kept anonymous to protect the author’s identity, and that while they allow the students to back out, they have never had one turn the opportunity down.

“My mother was absent through most of my childhood,” began one of the anonymous essays, “She had not been ready to be a mother when she got pregnant with my sister, and then with me.”

The essay detailed how the author’s grandparents raised her and her sister. It said the sister would shield the author from her mother, until one day the mother won custody over the two causing their lives to drastically change: this meant a new home and new school.

“I remember the day as if it was yesterday – it was my birthday,” the essay said. “While I was at school the loudspeaker came on and announced that I was being checked out. I remember thinking ‘how? We don’t even have a working car.’”

Later the author, and her sister, were removed from the mother’s custody and the author found herself living with her aunt. The courts also decided she was to see a councilor once a week. This councilor encouraged the author to obtain a library card and discover her love for reading.

“Life gave me the opportunity to further my education,” the essay said. “I want to further my mind so that I never have to feel the feeling of uncertainty.”

This was only 1 of the 11 essays read to the audience. All evoked responses from the crowd ranging from chuckles to head-nods of recognition. Other essays told of parents struggling against life-threatening illnesses, schools shutting down, and the hardships of bullying.

Each of the students were asked to reflect on the entirety of their education and choose one teacher who they felt had the most influence on each of their lives. These educators would be honored as Inspirational Educators.

“She was more nurturing, caring, and brutally honest,” said Joshua Fontenot, 34 and Distinguished Scholar of Bayou Cane Adult Education Center. “that’s always good.”

He was speaking of his choice for Inspirational Educator, Norma Donaldson, a teacher at Bayou Cane.

Donaldson said that educators at Bayou Cane teach all subjects, but Fontenot was, “academically already there,” she said. “We just refreshed his memory on math and essay writing.”

Fontenot currently works in a machine shop and is now considering going to college.

Another student, Tammy Rose Johnson, a senior and Distinguished Scholar from H.L. Bourgeois High School, said that at Evergreen Junior High School she used to struggle with Algebra.

Her freshman year math teacher and Inspirational Educator, Claudette Kelleher helped make Algebra fun.

“Scooby Do was all over the classroom, so it made it fun,” recalled Johnson. “It just made it a fun atmosphere.”

Kelleher said that her son was very young and had a Scooby Do, and in years past Kelleher would put Scooby on the floor, using the grids on the floor as coordinate planes. While she couldn’t do this for Johnson’s class she nevertheless continued the tradition of using Scooby to teach math.

“What does Scooby do? Find mysteries,” she said. “We’re just taking the mystery out of Algebra.”

When Johnson graduates, she intends to enroll at Nicholls State University majoring in Biology, pre-medicine.

Another award given out was the James J. Buquet, Jr. Award of Distinction. This honor went to Charles K. “Chuck” Weaver, the President Emeritus of South Louisiana Bank. Recipients of the award must have graduated from a Terrebonne Parish Public High School, have exuded excellence in a chosen field, and provided service unselfishly to his or her community, state, nation, or internationally.

Weaver’s introduction, detailing the charitable activities for Terrebonne Parish, was nine minutes in length and listed such services as serving in the Army, helping found the oldest community bank in Terrebonne Parish, financing Black’s Swamp Tour’s founding, serving as a member of the Board of Directors for the Chamber of Commerce, the American Cancer Society and the Louisiana Banker’s Association.

When approached about these recognitions privately, Weaver preferred not to elaborate, instead stated that his most proud work has been his involvement with TARC and efforts to help those with Cerebral Palsy. Work which has helped his daughter Julie.

He served on TARC’s Board of Directors for many years, Vice President from 1996-99, and as President from 1999-2001.

“Whatever I did for the community or service,” Weaver said. “I did because I love people.”

The event also took a moment to recognize 1 teacher and 1 principal from elementary, middle, and high school education. These were chosen by the Terrebonne Parish School Board.

2018 Principals of the Year: Cheryl Degruise, of Dularge Elementary School, Kelly Burlette, of Evergreen Jr. High School, and Mark Torbert, of South Terrebonne High School.

2018 Teachers of the Year: Ashley Clement, Dularge Elementary School, Karley Derouche, of Montegut Middle School, and Courtney Thibodeaux, of South Terrebonne High School.