Teachers work to clean up Donaldsonville _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Darlene Denstorff -- Teach For America Director of Teaching and Leadership Elizabeth Minton, left, picks up trash June 5 on Railroad Avenue in Donaldsonville along with TFA teachers, Brittane Maddoz, 22; and Leia Scott, 23.

School may be out, but some Donaldsonville teachers are taking a brief detour before hitting the white sandy beaches of summer vacation.

The South Louisiana Region of Teach for America held its annual community service day last week when teachers from all over the country came together in their new school districts to give back to the place they now call home.

“(The goal of the project) is to get (teachers) in the community and to see the needs here and that the needs expand beyond education,” said Lowery Middle School English teacher Amanda Kingston. “There’s a lot of opportunities here, and the people in these towns are very welcoming.”

Kingston, along with a handful of fellow TFA teachers, spent June 5 helping clean up the downtown Donaldsonville area, including everything from trash pickup to helping restore one of the few buildings left standing from the Civil War-ear.

TFA South Louisiana Executive Director Michael Tipton said Donaldsonville is one of several districts to hold service days last week with nearly all of the 85 teachers serving in the region contributing to the effort.

Tipton said most of the districts have been overwhelmingly supportive of the TFA efforts, but the organization still wanted to find a way to introduce these mostly out-of-state educators to the small towns of rural Louisiana.

“We want teachers to get out and see the schools and the parents and the communities,” Tipton said. “We asked, ‘Is there a way for teachers to get to know the community during the summer?’ and this is what we came up with.”

The project is in its fourth year, and Tipton along with many of TFA’s teachers have found it to be a great success.

TFA alumni and Dewitt, Iowa, native Will Farrell returned for the service day last week despite taking an athletic director’s position at Thrive Charter School in Baton Rouge following the completion of his TFA service at Lowery last year.

“Even if you have the right attitude, you actually have to try to be involved in the community,” Farrell said. “You can talk about wanting to be invested in the community, but if you show up and do the work and your actions prove it, I think that’s what’s important.”

Donaldsonville Downtown Development District Director Missy Jandura said she’s glad to see the young teachers “giving back ... and many of them giving back before they even start their tenure here.”

Many of the new teachers recently received their school assignments and are settling in to their new communities.

Others, like Leia Scott, 23, of Downers Grove, Illinois, are preparing for their second year in the program.

Scott decided to move to Donaldsonville after her first year teaching at Donaldsonville High School.

“This is such a great, close-knit town,” she said. “I plan to stay after my assignment. I love it here.”

Scott, who taught English and coached track at the high school last school year, said she’s having separation anxiety since the close of school. She said she’s already looking forward to her new class in August. Scott spent part of her day picking up trash along Railroad Avenue, not far from her home.

“It’s hot, but it’s for a good cause,” she said.