Last Modified: Friday, November 08, 2013 6:58 PM
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.”