Lessons for life

Sixteen boys attending the New St. John Baptist Church’s Boys Academy are learning more than reading, writing and spelling skills. They are learning about life.

The summer program, designed to give the 8- and 9-year-old boys an academic jump-start into fourth grade, where they’ll take state-required LEAP tests, also is teaching them that Jesus loves them.

“Jesus is concerned not only with the spiritual side of the person but the entire person,” said New St. John’s senior pastor, the Rev. W. Marshall Myles.

“So we must take on the concerns of Jesus with the whole individual — not only their spiritual side but their academic side and their social side.”

The academy, now in its second year at the historic, Old South Baton Rouge church, gives the boys positive, male role models that many don’t have growing up with single mothers and female elementary school teachers.

“We want them to see there is more to life than having a basketball in their hands,” Myles said. “Here they are seeing men in suits and ties and hearing a manly voice. … In this church we have men who are stepping up to the plate.”

Four of those men are church Deacon J.W. Vaughn, now retired after a 35-year career as a high school principal; Deacon Bernard Williams, a software designer and local entrepreneur; and church members Patrick Donald, a master teacher with more than 10 years experience, and Matthew Robins, a recent Southern University graduate and assistant teacher.

“This is a critical grade because in fourth grade they are starting to do fractions and other forms of mathematics,” Vaughn said.

The free academy is managed and funded by the church, because state or federal grants come with secular, bureaucratic oversight, Myles said.

“The instructors are allowing the boys to read Scriptures as part of their reading component,” Williams said.

From Monday through Thursday, the boys arrive at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast and hear a devotional lesson before their reading, writing and math classes.

They also are learning computer and library skills and hearing from role model men from the community.

The boys get a nutritious lunch and are picked up by parents at 1:30 p.m.

The boys attend The Dufrocq School, Buchanan, Polk, St. Francis Xavier, Park and Cedarcrest Southmoor Elementary schools. None are church members.

A commencement ceremony will be held July 21 during the Sunday morning service.

Master teacher Patrick Donald, wearing a white shirt and black tie, said he is comfortable being a role model.

“A lot of the males they look up to are probably on TV or videos,” Donald said. “We have to compete with that and overcome that. We want to be their mentors. They can only see those guys from afar.”

As Donald discussed the program with visitors, the boys’ talking rose in volume and assistant teacher Robins, in his best authoritative voice, started counting, “five, four, …” and the room hushed.

Fresh out of Southern University and scheduled to teach elementary and special education at Southern University Lab school in the fall, Robins said he is excited about working with the boys this summer.

“I love kids and I want to see them succeed — especially our young men,” Robins said. “I want to see them grow up and have somebody to look up to, and I want to be that person here at New St. John’s.”

Troy Williams, 9, attends St. Francis Xavier and already knows, he said, that he wants to be an “AT&T person” when he grows up.

“I want to go to college.”