This 19-year-old secured seat on school board in Louisiana
MARKSVILLE, La. (AP) — Stanley Celestine Jr. will have an advantage over his fellow school board members. He’ll likely know what students in the Avoyelles Parish School District are going through better than the rest.
That’s because he was in their shoes, or at least their seats, less than two years ago.
Celestine is 19, a 2017 graduate of the school system he will help lead come January.
He expects connecting with students in a way they can relate will help both him and the school system. He wants to help students have a voice — and help improve a struggling school system.
“I will be able to bring a perspective from someone who just graduated from the system and hopefully will inspire more students to participate,” he said. “Student voice is important to have on any organization that benefits children.”
Celestine received 65 percent of the vote this November to secure the District 5 seat on the Avoyelles Parish School Board. ...
He’s well aware he’ll be the youngest on the nine-member board next year. During his campaign, people asked why he didn’t wait to run until after college, until he was older and made a more traditional candidate.
He took an educational approach to answering that question.
“We don’t wait to teach kids how to read and write,” Celestine said. “We want to start as early as possible. So it’s important we are teaching and instilling in young people that they are never too young ... to do things that are not the status quo or not the norm.”
Celestine isn’t the youngest school board member in America. A high school senior in Texas won a seat in 2017.
“He is extremely intelligent and extremely hard-working,” said Avoyelles schools Superintendent Blaine Dauzat, who was Celestine’s principal for a time at LaSAS. ”... (His age) might bring some challenges at times, but he is very resourceful and will probably get past most of those.”
His recent experience in the district means he knows a lot of the teachers and administrators, knows some of the students and fellow board members.
“I’ve always been the student who was involved, both academically and civically involved, whether it’s leading clubs and organizations,” he said. “I’ve always tried to educate myself and others on the system that educates them, from the school district to the state.”
He attended Cottonport Elementary, which is the only school located in District 5, and the charter school Louisiana School for the Agricultural Sciences (LaSAS).
“I do feel like I got a very good education that prepared me for life after high school,” Celestine said.
But he recognizes his high school provided him unique opportunities.
His alma mater was the only one of the parish’s 10 schools to receive an A letter grade from the Louisiana Department of Education, according to scores that were released in November.
“Not every child across our district has that opportunity,” he said.
More than half of Avoyelles Parish schools received either a D or F grade. The district’s overall grade is a C.
While he cares about improving academics in the district, he also wants to focus on other parts of the student experience — the emotional and social side of going to school.
He wants to work with his fellow board members on creating an environment where kids can thrive both academically and socially.
That’s a passion of his as well as his major. He’s pursuing a bachelor’s in sociology with a concentration in family and child studies through an online program at McNeese State University.
He wants to cultivate social development programs in school settings.
“Vulnerable students need that social and emotional support to help with mental health and behavioral issues,” he said. “It could be an alternative to suspensions and expulsions, eradicate the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Such services help school staff as well, he said, and perhaps help address the high teacher turnover rate in the parish.
While he doesn’t take his seat on the board until January, he’s having meetings now with folks to get a better internal understanding of what’s in place and how it can be scaled and expanded to more or all of the district.
The Avoyelles Parish School District, located in Central Louisiana, oversees 10 schools with 5,300 students from pre-K to 12th grade.
It is sliced into nine districts, or seats on the board, and Celestine will represent District 5, which contains only one school.
But he also represents students who live within District 5 and attend other schools across the parish as a result of consolidations and majority-to-minority transfers.
“So he’ll represent all 10 schools,” Dauzat explained.
While school board member is a new title for the teen, Celestine has long been a leader. He held offices for Beta, FFA and 4-H and credits his ability to campaign for a seat on the board to his experience campaigning for state and national 4-H offices.
“It was a very interesting campaign,” Celestine said about running for school board. “In the beginning I thought the biggest thing I would need to do would be to clear up and change the narrative about what young people are doing. I didn’t have to do as much of that as I thought.”
He’s also been running a nonprofit for a few years now, leading a staff, budgeting and working with organizations like the Rapides Foundation.
He founded a 501(c)(3) called WeTeachSTEM in 2013 as an underclassman in high school. As the name suggests, it focused on those science, technology, engineering and math areas.
It has since re-branded to Truly Thrive, expanding beyond STEM to work with organizations who work on behalf of children.
The nonprofit provides professional development, networking, marketing, communication, capacity building and other help to strengthen organizations, Celestine said.
Celestine has been balancing his organization with college and is preparing himself to add school board to the mix.
It will come down to good schedule management and being flexible, he said. He plans his schedule out a month in advance.
“I’m very strategic with my calendar,” he said.
Coming from a family of educators, he knew he wanted to enter the field and plans to teach one day.
His decision to run for school board was solidified when he completed the Disney Dreamers Academy, an annual four-day event through Disney, the Steve Harvey Foundation and Essence Magazine.
The program is for high school students between 13 and 19 years old who learn career-building skills like interviewing and networking.
“I knew I had wanted to run for school board, but when I did the Disney Dreamers Academy it really did put a spark in me,” he said.