New program planned to honor Albertha Hasten

Iberville Parish School Superintendent Ed Cancienne plans to honor the memory of former School Board member and community activist Albertha Hasten by starting a college readiness program at White Castle High.

The program will be a partnership with Southern University and will be geared toward increasing the college success rate for black students at White Castle High.

The college readiness program, which Cancienne presented to the School Board on May 13, will expose White Castle High students to higher education opportunities during their early years in high school through outreach and mentoring efforts with Southern University officials.

“You want to start the journey toward higher education early,” Cancienne said. “There is a tremendous heritage in White Castle regarding Southern University, but one thing we have to do with students is allow them to be exposed to success (and) this program allows you to hear the voice of Albertha Hasten loud and clear.”

Hasten, 62, a beloved activist in her community, died suddenly on Nov. 19 from heart failure. She had served on the Iberville Parish School Board for 17 years, representing the White Castle area.

Hasten also served as the president of the Louisiana Environmental Justice Community Organization Coalition.

At the organization’s helm, Hasten campaigned for the environmental protection of low-income communities near industrial and petrochemical plants throughout the region.

In 2011, Hasten and the coalition led an effort to get steel manufacturer Nucor Corp. and other industries along the Mississippi River to help residents living in Romeville to relocate.

The effort came after residents raised questions about their health related to the industries’ proximity to their community, according to reports.

“She was a champion of those in poverty, neglect, bias and did not cringe in the heat of civil rights,” Cancienne said. “College readiness built on experience and exposure was a mantra of hers. She believed all children could learn at high levels given skilled teaching and opportunity.”

Cancienne said he hopes the program will honor Hasten by fostering interactions between White Castle High students and faculty and staff members from Southern University through a series of initiatives following the university system’s “Five-Fifths Agenda for America.”

“Five-Fifths Agenda for America” is a project the university system adopted to address the escalating numbers of young black men who are becoming college dropouts, often ending up in prison.

“Five-Fifths” draws its name from the “Three-Fifths Compromise” formula agreed upon by Northern and Southern states during the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The agreement counted slaves as three-fifths of a person as a means to decide a state’s representation in Congress.

The program’s mission is to steer White Castle’s black male and female students toward attending — and, most importantly, graduating from — Southern University through a summer enrichment camp, biannual trips to the university, mentoring and tutoring programs, and exposure to the arts.

According to a five-year educational attainment survey from the Census Bureau, approximately 36 percent of White Castle teens attend college but only 5 percent graduate.

Cancienne has asked the School Board to allocate approximately $100,000 to finance the program’s inaugural year beginning in June and ending in May 2014.

The board is expected to vote on the superintendent’s request at its meeting June 10.

“These various programs are geared toward increasing their ACT scores, which is a barrier for them,” said Gail Edwards, White Castle High’s dean of students and academic affairs.

Edwards also is serving as the liaison between the high school and the university.

Edwards said university officials are drafting their own plan as well, which will be merged with Cancienne’s proposal.

“Southern University wants to be involved in dual enrollment, ACT enhancement, satellite classes and professional development for teachers,” she said.