Never a Dull Moment
Louis DesChamps didn’t start a new job as Communities In Schools site coordinator, he dove into it.
Louis DesChamps didn’t start a new job as Communities In Schools site coordinator, he dove into it. “Our work was just developing at Page Street Elementary School and West Middle School [in Biscoe, N.C.]. I immediately began to build relationships with the community, principals, teachers, students and parents.”
That was three and a half years ago and DesChamps hasn’t stopped since. “There is not a day that goes by in which Mr. D., as everyone calls him, is not speaking or meeting with parents and teachers,” says Heather Wallace, executive director of Communities In Schools of Montgomery County, N.C.
For his tireless service to the students of Montgomery County, DesChamps received an Unsung Heroes award from Communities In Schools, one of five people to receive the award in 2010. The Unsung Heroes award is given each year to Communities In Schools employees who demonstrate high levels of commitment, accountability, persistence, coordination and a dedication to equality.
It’s a Huge Job
“Throughout his time at Communities In Schools, DesChamps has recruited more than 60 volunteers for the mentoring program, worked tirelessly to gain partners, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, the Sheriff’s Office, hospitals and many others, and bring them in to the school to work with students in groups and one-on-one sessions.”
Listening to him recite what he does on a day-today basis offers a new definition of tireless. “I monitor all of the Level Two students receiving targeted interventions, check with teachers on how they are doing behaviorally and academically. I talk with kids when they get off-track and de-escalate situations when they get in trouble. I meet with parents, teachers and principals. I get feedback from school personnel and parents, and incorporate that into my plans for each child. I mentor the mentors to make sure they are happy. I make sure the teachers and kids are happy with the jobs the mentors are doing.”
Then he laughs and admits that this was exactly what he wanted when he started the job. “Before I came to Communities In Schools, I worked at a mental health agency with one or two kids at a time. I wanted to work with more kids and have a bigger impact on the school system. “It’s a huge job and I love it. There is never a dull moment.”
Mr. D. goes above and beyond, says Wallace, making sure that every one of his students benefits from his attention. “He picks them up for school or trips, makes trips to the hospital to see our children in need, takes calls from children at midnight or on a Sunday during church time. He knows that one phone call from a child during a time of need could be the turning point in that child’s life and he always answers their calls.”
Stephanie Griffin is one of those kids. Like most of the students DesChamps works with, Stephanie, 13 and in the sixth grade at West, is not an academic star or a troublemaker. She’s one of the kids who could stay invisible right up until she decides school isn’t worth it anymore. When he met her in her third-grade year, she had “some difficulties with her home life. She had low self-esteem, low grades and it was hard for her to make friends. She needed a lot of attention.”
Stephanie won’t be slipping through any cracks while “Mr. D.” is on the job. “He helps me out with my family problems. I can talk to him,” she says. More recently, he found a mentor, Ms. Molly, to work with her and Stephanie is thrilled. “I love Ms. Molly. We do a lot of things together.”
In addition to her mentor, Stephanie still takes part in the activities DesChamps plans for his students. “In the summer, he takes us places like the pool and during the school year, he plans things for after school or our days off.” Once, she says delightedly, he took a group of kids to the Biltmore, the historic estate of George Vanderbilt in Asheville, N.C.
Those “teachable moments” are a big part of DesChamps goals as site coordinator, opening up windows on a world students may not know. During his time at West and Page, he has instituted a food drive to donate canned goods to the local food bank, created a hygiene class for the boys in the elementary school and adapted a “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” program for fourth graders.
He’s been happily surprised by the success of these programs. “The kids were so willing to bring in canned food. The first year we did it, we gave the ‘winning’ classroom a pizza party. When we told the kids in the second-place classroom, which was the fourth grade, that they wouldn’t get a pizza party, one of the kids stood up and said, ‘We didn’t do it for the pizza.’”
You wouldn’t expect a hygiene class to get rave reviews but DesChamps says that it has made a big difference in the way the boys see themselves. “One of the boys went home and told his parents how happy he was to have the class. You just don’t know what kind of impact you can have when you do things like this,” he notes.
After a rocky first year, the “7 Habits” class is taking off. “We have 35 fourth graders in the class and they meet once a week.” He leads lesson plans on each of the seven habits and the kids put on a program at the end of the year to show their parents what they learned.
Walking Out the Door
Stephanie is definitely one of DesChamps’ success stories. “She has improved both her self-esteem and grades, and she has lots of friends. She is working hard to make the honor roll,” he notes. Her mother, Michele Turner, has also noticed a difference in her daughter. “Stephanie is calmer and has a lot more focus than she used to. Instead of mostly Cs and a B, now her report cards have more As and a few Bs.”
For DesChamps, that kind of progress is what keeps him going. “My greatest success is seeing each child in the program pass on to the next grade.” Right up until they walk out the doors he’s opened wide for them.
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