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Lenn Knapp helps tutor a second grader at Oak Park Elementary. (Marilyn Fontenot / Special to the American Press)

Lenn Knapp helps tutor a second grader at Oak Park Elementary. (Marilyn Fontenot / Special to the American Press)

Sara McLeod Judson stands in front of Oak Park Elementary before the first day of school in September 1971. (Special to the American Press)

Sara McLeod Judson stands in front of Oak Park Elementary before the first day of school in September 1971. (Special to the American Press)

Former Oak Park students return to give back to current crop

Last Modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 7:17 PM

By Nichole Osinski / American Press

As Oak Park Elementary prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary this month a group of people have been working to support the growth of its students.

This group consists of faculty, staff and volunteers, many of whom have previous ties to the school. The anniversary has given those involved with students’ education a chance to reflect on the changes that have brought Oak Park to where it is now.

Sarah Judson, who was a student at the school in the 1970s, is one of these people who has returned to give back to the students. She, along with a group from her church, volunteers by tutoring, being lunch buddies to students and participating in leadership programs.

The volunteers have partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters for the Lunch Buddy Program, which pairs students and adults during lunch hour to build relationships, foster encouragement and provide someone to talk to.

“I have really enjoyed it. It’s so funny, when you haven’t been there for years your perception is completely different,” Judson said. “It’s very exciting. We are so happy to see we’re making a positive impact, one child at a time.”

Linda Bellow, a fellow student in the same grade as Judson when they were at Oak Park, has also seen the progressive changes happening at the school. After her own positive experience as a student she decided she too wanted to come back, but as a full-time teacher.

Now the first-grade teacher works to be helpful and supportive just as she recalls her teachers were to her. She has been a teacher at the school for 10 years and has enjoyed seeing the effect the programs have had on students.

“When I became a teacher and was certified I wanted to come here — it was like coming home,” Bellow said.

“I don’t remember having anything like the outside organizations and volunteers coming in like we have now. They really help the children, who enjoy talking and sharing because some don’t have anyone to talk to and it builds up trust.”

The Leader in Me program has generated a good response from educators, students and their teachers. The program is based on “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by teaching adults leadership ethics so they can then instruct students how to be leaders and learn responsibility.

The Junior League of Lake Charles is one organization that has been getting involved with the leadership program, but it isn’t the organization’s first time going to the school. Judson remembers when her mother was involved with Junior League when she was a student and members would put on puppet shows for students.

Leonard Knapp, a former junior high student at Oak Park and the parent of children who went to the elementary school, has joined those returning to make an impact at Oak Park. He has been involved with several of the programs and said it has been a fun experience to go back to the school to volunteer.

“The enthusiasm is still there, and it’s a neat experience to go back and see the school and how it’s progressed,” he said.

“You have a special attachment because your children have been there and you’ve been through that experience. So you can relate to the students because of that and having been there and gone through this before.”

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