Sulphur High JAG program seeks to prevent dropouts

By By Justin B. Phillips / American Press

SULPHUR — In an office inside Stine in Sulphur on Friday, Tyrella Bushnell watched as her group of a dozen or so students

listened to the hardware store’s CEO, Dennis Stine. The Sulphur High School students are participants in the JAG program,

Jobs for American Graduates, and Bushnell is their instructor. As Stine talked about the company and his views on what it

takes to be successful in the hardware industry, the group sat quietly, soaking in the advice.

“If you go hire on some place, find out about the culture of the business in that workplace,” Stine said. “You’re going to

learn through life. If you aren’t learning, I promise you’re going backwards.”

Once Stine finished, the students were taken on a tour of the building. They were eventually broken up into groups to learn

about different jobs at the store.

JAG is a nonprofit dropout-prevention group. Some of the students in the group Friday come from broken homes. Others are holding

a home together, despite being teenagers themselves. A few are going through transitions and have no place to call home.

In the middle of the storm with most of

these students is Bushnell. She said she knows her job is hard to

quantify. Some days

she’s a teacher. Other days she’s a counselor. Sometimes she’s

even mom for the students. Today, she was just providing them

a chance to be in a professional environment.

“When they’re dealing with adult problems outside of school, if we don’t pick up the slack in that particular area, they’re

more likely to just drop out of school,” Bushnell said. “One of the biggest things I try to teach them is respect. That’s

really important. Basically, I’m trying to be an example for them for how they should one day raise their own children.”

Bushnell has been part of the program

in some capacity for three years. JAG has been in Sulphur for seven

years, and the national

program has been operating for more than three decades.

As Bushnell followed and watched the

students roam the store with managers, she talked about how helpful some

local businesses

have been. Bushnell has been known to cook meals for the kids, and

she said Walmart has donated food when she needed it most.

Still, Bushnell said she knows how far her influence reaches with

the students, but she doesn’t see what she’s doing as something

deserving recognition.

“They give you these kids and they say go perform a miracle,” Bushnell said. “I’m just a little JAG teacher. The people who

see this should know that I’m passionate about this program. That’s it: I’m just passionate about it.”

During a trip to Lafayette, Bushnell

said the group was watching a presentation that discussed some of the

obstacles the students

were facing in their lives when one of the students got up to

leave. Bushnell said the student had to go outside to gather

herself because the presentation was touching on topics she knew

about. The student understood what the presentation was trying

to covey because she felt as if it was talking about her. It was a

moment Bushnell said she remembers clearly.

Vivian Guillory was that student.

Bushnell described her as one of the JAG participants she noticed grow

as a person the most.

While her classmates were in all corners of the building, Guillory

talked about what the program and Bushnell have done for

her.

“Mrs. Bushnell has really boosted my self-esteem. That’s the main thing,” Guillory said. “She helped me believe in myself

more.”

Guillory said she lacked confidence. She said past turbulence at home had contributed to how she once felt.

Today, Guillory is bright, cheery and

talkative. She says she has plans to go to college after high school,

maybe Sowela Technical

Community College. She even talked about being into cooking and

maybe one day becoming a chef. The reason she has confidence

to dream those things, Guillory said, is because of her

instructor.

“Out of all these years, she has been one of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” Guillory said. “Honestly, she is probably the

best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can say that for a fact.”

Online: www.jag.org.