New Program Launched to Improve College and Career Readiness in Graduates

Soon, Louisiana high school students will be able to earn an associate’s degree or gain meaningful work experience for career readiness through a new high-demand apprenticeship program from the Louisiana Department of Education, as announced in a recent Louisiana Believes press release.

The program, Fast Forward, was developed to actively blur the lines dividing high school, higher education, and the workforce, thus completely redefining the high school experience in an accommodating and versatile way. Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Dr. Cade Brumley said of the program, “this bold initiative has the potential to impact the educational landscape in our state for years to come. We must be more deliberate about personalizing high school for our students and preparing them for their next step beyond high school graduation.”

Students entering the program would begin high school in a typical manner by completing grades 9 and 10 on their high school campus while earning their required diploma coursework in the core academic areas like English Language Arts, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Social Studies, etc. Then, once students pass their sophomore year and are at high school’s halfway point, they will be given the option to spend grades 11 and 12 on a postsecondary campus, a high school post secondary satellite campus, or while fully immersed in a state-recognized pre-apprentice or apprentice program.

Aside from the traditional options offered to students in high school, the Fast Forward initiative would offer up to three pathways to students. The Jump Start 2.0 Associate’s Degree Pathway allows students planning to enter the workforce directly after high school to graduate with an associate’s degree. The TOPS University Associate’s Degree Pathway would allow for college-bound students to earn two years of collegiate credit while in high school. The High-Demand Apprenticeship Pathway would allow students to enter the workforce directly following high school graduation with certification in a high-demand field.

This program will be impactful as recent graduation cohort data showed that only 159 out of 42,650 2019 graduates warned both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, marking this pathway an area in need of improvement.

All three options are clearly advantageous for any high schooler wishing to get the most out of their high school experience, and the pathways already build upon programs and similar diploma tracks that are currently offered in Louisiana schools. Each of the state’s eight regions will have planning grants with funds up to $50,000 awarded to a lead regional secondary school system and its higher education partner in that district. Additionally, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Board of Regents will split the cost of the grants.

Details of the promising Fast Forward initiative for college and career readiness were first shared during the December 2020 joint meeting of theLouisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and Regents, with the initiative receiving support from both boards, and that support comes as little surprise. This is due to the fact that much national attention has been garnered for the effort put forward by the Board of Regents, BESE, the Dual Enrollment Task Force, andLouisiana legislature to enhance pathway opportunities to improve career and college readiness in the state.

The State Commissioner of Higher Education, Dr. Kim Hunter Reed said of the program, “this pilot puts into action the joint goal adopted by BESE and Regents in 2019—for all freshmen, beginning with the entering class of 2025, to graduate with some college credit or a market-relevant credential. We must attract more students to our campuses if we want our state’s attainment level to improve and one of the easiest ways to do that is to embed college experiences into high school.”

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North Louisiana Historical Association Awards Centenary College Undergraduates

The North Louisiana Historical Association has awarded two recent graduates of  Centenary College, according to a press release issued by the school. Centenary College of Louisiana, the selective, residential, and national liberal arts college, located in Shreveport, Louisiana is the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River.  It’s widely accepted as a principal figure in all things related to northern Louisianan history.

The Centenary College students whose research is being honored are class of 2020 graduates, Jessi Jordan and King Gray. Both alumni submitted research to the W. Darrell Overdyke Undergraduate Competition, an annual awards contest that recognizes outstanding research papers from both graduates and undergraduates writing papers that explore the historical legacy of North Louisiana. In addition to the acclaim and recognition, the winning papers are published as official articles in the journal, North Louisiana History.

Jessi Jordan, who earned a Bachelors of the Arts in history and minored in French at Centenary College, submitted her paper, “Jan Garber and His Orchestra: An ‘Idol’s Story of Adaptation in Popular Music,” winning first place in the competition’s undergraduate division. The subject of the acclaimed research paper is Jan Garber, a nationally-renowned bandleader and celebrated “idol” of the swing era’s airwaves who lived a majority of his life in Shreveport.

Focusing her research on a combination of her passion for history and love for music, Jordan utilized a large collection of primary documents in the Jan Garber papers found at Louisiana State University-Shreveport’s Noel Memorial Library. The paper argued that the key to Garber’s sustainability as a musical artist, the ability to attain over four decades of exponential success was his willingness to adapt his musical style to the changing, revolving world around him.

Winning second place in the Overdyke Undergraduate Competition was King Gray, who recently earned a B.A. in history with a minor in political science and who is now teaching sixth grade in the Aldine Independent School District of Aldine, Texas. Gray’s paper had focused on social dynamics and the individual experiences of Centenary College’s foreign students in the 1950’s in his paper, “Friends from Across the Pacific: The Experiences of Japanese Students at Centenary College in the 1950s.”

Serving as the advisor for both students’ research projects was Dr. Samuel Shepherd, professor emeritus of history at Centenary. He remarked on the experience, “Jessi and King wrote these research papers in our history senior seminar, fall semester 2019. Both distinguished themselves with their enthusiastic, relentless, resourceful quests to gain the information necessary to tell special, little-known stories about North Louisiana. It was a joy to assist them and watch them bring their stories together.”

The W. Darrell Overdyke Undergraduate Competition is named in honor of former Centenary College history professor W. Darrell Overdyke, who was known for his specialization on antebellum homes and the American South’s “Know Nothing” political party. Overdyke was also a founding member of the North Louisiana Historical Association (NLHA) in 1952 with its self-proclaimed mission of “encourag[ing[ an appreciation and understanding of the history of North Louisiana.”

The Association’s academic journal in which the awarded research papers are published, North Louisiana History is published twice annually in Shreveport, Louisiana, and its origin parallels the history of the NLHA with it being organized in 1952. Beginning first as a bulletin, then as a newsletter, the acclaimed and oft-cited collection of articles was then published as an official academic journal in the fall of 1969 with issues still being released today. Today, the journal accepts articles focusing on any part of Northern Louisiana, including Alexandria.

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Tulane Introduces Louisiana Promise Program

Louisiana high school students attending Tulane University next year from low and middle-income families will be doing so without the burden of student loans, with the introduction of the Louisiana Promise Program, as reported by Article from WWLTV.   

These students admitted to Tulane as full-time freshmen will be meeting the school’s “full financial need,” a program with an income threshold of $100,000 in adjusted gross income. However, this is not simply to say that Tulane University, the New Orleans-area private research institution, will be giving each freshman who meets the threshold a “full ride.” Instead, this achievement traditionally means that the families of those qualifying will only pay the amount determined by FAFSA, the Free Application For Federal Student Aid.

The amount that families of those applying will be expected to pay is determined by the family’s income, as each year families fill out the FAFSA, listing their adjusted gross income, obligations, and assets. A formula determines the amount that a family can afford to pay toward a college tuition, with the cost being as low as $0 in some cases.

However, starting with next year’s incoming class, these families will be paying toward their freshman’s education without applying for or taking out student loans, which many in the state rely upon.

Louisiana Promise No Loan Assistance Scholarship is the name of Tulane University’s comprehensive plan to make higher education institutions more accessible to all Louisiana students. In addition to the financial aid commitment, the initiative also establishes a new college prep center in New Orleans as well as access to Pre-College Summer Programs. Said programs provide 50 full scholarships to select students who have been nominated by a counselor, teacher, or community-based organization to attend the two-week residential program.

Applicants to the Louisiana Promise program need only be Louisiana residents who have graduated from a Louisiana high school and whose families make less than $100,000 a year. Those applying will have to first be admitted as a first-time, full-time freshman for a Fall Semester, beginning in Fall 2021, and they’ll need to qualify for Tulane need-based Scholarships by April 15th.

In addition to the scholarship aspects of the program, Tulane University is also expanding its reach in the New Orleans metro area by establishing a new college prep center aimed at engaging first-generation students as well as those who have been underrepresented, never considering attending Tulane or other selective universities as a viable option for them.

This center will run a free program directed at teaching students about the college application process, navigating the financial aid process, and preparing students to take standardized tests, such as the ACT and SAT. The center will also educate interested parents about the university application process while connecting them to other families who are new to the process and well-versed in what is required.

Highlighting the program’s mission, Tulane President Michael Fitts said, “Louisiana Promise is a commitment to our state and community to make higher education more accessible, if a Louisiana student’s dream is to come to Tulane, we don’t want financial concerns to be a barrier for them to become a part of the Tulane family. These programs will help keep the state’s best and brightest students in Louisiana.”

As only 11 percent of all Tulane undergraduate students come from Louisiana, the program is also an effort to raise that number by expanding the school’s reach to new demographics.

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell celebrated this effort made by Tulane to bridge the gap between the University and low income Louisiana students by saying, “I want to applaud Tulane University for its launch of the Louisiana Promise program, which will create pathways for Louisiana high school students to attend Tulane. This builds upon their investment that I have the honor of committing to through the Mayoral Scholarship program.”

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Nicholls Foundation Receives History Making Donation

Nicholls State University received a generous donation last month that will benefit over a dozen students and faculty pursuing educational enrichment.  As announced in August by the Nicholls Foundation in a university press release, an impressive bequest from the estate of James and Mary Alice Van Sickle (BA ‘66) will produce 10 endowed professorships and 10 or more scholarships for undergraduates, graduates, and professors alike at the prestigious university.

The Van Sickle’s generous gifts will go to the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, with the professorships, specifically honoring Mary Alice’s mother, Mabel Bollinger Toups, a lifelong Lockport teacher. The James R. and Mary Alice Van Sickle Endowed Scholarships will range from $2,500 to $5,000 per student.

Mary Alice Van Sickle is a Lockport native who majored in English education while at Nicholls, and the gift offered by the Van Sickles is sure to honor the educational legacy of Mabel Toups. Today, James and Mary Alice live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as she retired in 2014 after a three-decade career in marketing for a landscape architectural firm in Boston.

Mary Alice was quoted as believing “ that there is no better preparation for living a full and rewarding life than through education. I hope these scholarship students will enrich their own lives through learning and will graduate with the tools that will lead to success in their chosen professions. The bequest will also allow teachers to expand their own learning opportunities through research and study, and to continue to inspire the love of learning in students by serving as positive role models.”

While the Van Sickles humbly did not wish to announce the donation amount, their gift is recognized to be the largest legacy agreement within the Nicholls Foundation’s Oaks Society, an organization, which is comprised of alumni, parents, faculty and friends making a planned gift to Nicholls State University or the closely related Nicholls Foundation.

Named after the numerous and ever-present oak trees of the Nicholls campus, membership to the Oaks Society can be granted to any individual donating in an effort to further the mission of Nicholls State University, regardless of amount. Like the nearly 50 oak trees present at the university’s founding, and still providing shade and scenery today, these planned gifts have the potential to have a lasting generational impact.

Mary Alice is extremely fond of her time spent at the university, saying, ““I have always felt that I received an outstanding education at Nicholls, which provided me with the life skills that would equip me to succeed in my chosen career. Nicholls instilled in me a true love for learning, and a curiosity about the world beyond the bayou. The bequest is my way of saying thank you. This beloved institution placed its trust in me so many years ago and provided me with a foundation of knowledge, which has nurtured me throughout my adult life.”

The Nicholls Foundation’s executive director, Jeremy Becker expressed his excitement of the VanSickle’s gift and the “tremendous impact” that it will have for “so many faculty and students at Nicholls.” The Foundation, itself, is an independent university group that supports the mission of Nicholls State University by seeking gifts and grants and managing those funds and other assets to support the school through endowed chairs, professorships, scholarships, and other enhancement offers.

If any reader is interested in learning more about The Nicholls Foundation or making a bequest to become a member of The Oaks Society, it’s suggested that they visit visit or contact Becker at 448-4006.

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Louisiana STEM Pathway Graduates Awarded

The Senior Class of 2020 has certainly had its share of challenges, but one group of 23 Louisiana seniors have completed rigorous STEM coursework, earning an impressive diploma endorsement. This news comes from a Louisiana Department of Education press release, in which the state’s first STEM cohort accomplished this admirable achievement.

State Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley stated, “The Louisiana Department of Education applauds these students for being the first in the state to complete challenging sequences of STEM coursework and graduate with a diploma endorsement. “These students have shown they are ready to fill critical workforce needs in STEM career sectors. They are tomorrow’s computer programmers, process technicians, researchers, and medical professionals.”

This inaugural class of 23 Louisiana Seniors will earn a special endorsement on their diploma to mark the accomplishment of completing the rigorous STEM coursework, or coursework designed to prepare them to excel in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math career fields.

Louisiana STEM Pathways was initially launched in 2016, and the program is a part of the Jump Start Initiative, Louisiana’s premiere, innovative career and technical education program (CTE). While Jump Start prepares students to lead productive adult lives, capable of continuing their education after high school while earning certifications in high-wage career sectors, the STEM Pathways specifically prepare students to seek a STEM degree in college or enter the workforce having earned certifications in high-wage career sectors. The program is designed for students seeking either a TOPS Tech Diploma or University Diploma, and they include biomedical, computing, cyber security, digital design and emergent media, pre-engineering, and pre-pharmacy.

Within just the 2019-2020 school year alone, more than 4,000 students among 81 Louisiana schools are enrolled in these STEM pathways, and more continue to join each year. After completing rigorous, challenging coursework, students are recognized and awarded with endorsements on their diplomas. Students completing four core courses in a single pathway are recognized with a silver endorsement, while those who go beyond the core coursework to complete four optional courses are recognized with a gold endorsement. OF this year’s crop of 23 graduated, 15 received silver and 8 eight received gold.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) sponsored the bill to create the STEM seal for high school students along with the state’s  LaSTEM Advisory Council. Hewill stated, “Over the next decade, Louisiana and the nation will see a surge in the number of job opportunities available in STEM fields. The Louisiana STEM Pathways represent one step forward in the state’s effort to better meet those workforce demands. We must continue to expand the program, as well as ensure students have exposure to STEM courses and credentials starting in elementary school and continued through college.”

Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed, who chairs the LaSTEM Advisory Council reported, “A 2018 report by ACT showed 51 percent of Louisiana students indicated having an interest in STEM majors and careers. By exposing our students to this coursework earlier in their education, we can position them for success in college and beyond and position our state for economic prosperity.”

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Louisiana High School Seniors Earn National Merit Scholarships

An article from The Advocate announced recently that thirty-four of the forty Louisiana scholarships awarded so far as part of the 65th annual National Merit Scholarship Program are on their way to some very deserving high school seniors from the New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas.  These winners were announced Wednesday, May 13, 2020 joining the other seven who were announced April 21.

Additional winners for the National Merit Scholarship program are expected to be announced June 3 and July 13. At the culmination of this year’s competition, over 7,500 students nationwide will have won National Merit Scholarships.  The 2020 competition will award students with scholarships totaling more than $30 million.

The most recent round of National Merit Scholarships were for $2,500 each, and all but one was financed by the organizers of the National Merit scholarship program. The scholarships that were announced on April 21 were funded by corporations and ranged anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 per year.

Two New Orleans high schools, Jesuit and Ben Franklin, led the way statewide in scholarships in the first two rounds, at six and four recipients, respectively.

Baton Rouge found three of its high schools tied for three scholarships each – those schools being Catholic, Baton Rouge Magnet, and St. Joseph’s Academy.

Two Lafayette area schools, Ascension Episcopal School and Southside High, are home to one recipient each.

The winners of this year’s National Merit scholarships were drawn from a pool of 16,000 semifinalists and 15,000 finalists.  This pool came from the over 1.5 million high school juniors who took the PSAT in October 2018.

Details on all the Louisiana winners are below – congratulations and we wish you all the best in the future!

New Orleans Region National Merit Scholarships:

Dominic T. Allain, Salmen High in Slidell; Christopher N. Barron, Northshore High in Slidell; Andre R. Bourque, Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts in Natchitoches; Tomaso H. Dire, Ben Franklin High; Olympia R. Baldwin Edwards, Ben Franklin High; Mary Grace Foster, Lusher Charter School in New Orleans; Charlotte L. Fowler, Ursuline Academy in New Orleans; Emily C. Gibbons, Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy in Westwego; John M. Gunaldo, Jesuit High; Salma Ashraf Heram, Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy in Westwego; Thomas S. Levy, Jesuit High; Milan Mardia, Jesuit High; Hayes T. Martin, Jesuit High; Christian T. Nguyen, Jesuit High; Amanda L. Phillips, Fontainebleau High in Mandeville; Dominic J. Stoner, Jesuit High; Hayley E. Sumich, Mt. Carmel Academy in New Orleans; Joseph V. Wagner, Ben Franklin High; Charlotte C. Williams, Isidore Newman School in New Orleans; and David Y. Zhang, Ben Franklin High.

Baton Rouge Region National Merit Scholarships: 

Sophie K. Faircloth, Denham Springs High; Nicholas M. Fanguy, Catholic High; Celia A. Kiesel, Episcopal High; Joshua J. Langlois, Catholic High; Sara G. Mayeux, St. Joseph’s Academy; Krishna R. Pochana, Baton Rouge Magnet High; Adam Lowery Reid, Episcopal High; Shreya V. Reshamwala, St. Joseph’s Academy; Stewart A. Roeling, Catholic High; Amy E. Ruckman, Baton Rouge Magnet High; Thuc Nhan N. Tran, St. Joseph’s Academy; and Cindy Y. Zheng, Baton Rouge Magnet High. Nine are residents of Baton Rouge. Of the other three recipients, Faircloth lives in Denham Springs, Mayeux is in Prairieville and Reid is in Gonzales. All but Faircloth attend schools in Baton Rouge.

Lafayette/Acadiana Region National Merit Scholarships:

William W. Brien, Ascension Episcopal School; Dylan C. Davis, Southside High.

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