Since the East Baton Rouge Parish school system lowered the grade-point average needed to participate in sports in August, Glen Oaks High School’s football team has added four players to its roster who were previously ineligible.
They are among 34 teenagers in the parish who have benefited so far from the controversial lowering of the minimum GPA from 2.0 to 1.5, low C or a high D average, depending on who you ask. All are male and all are football players.
They are just a tiny slice, though, of the nearly 1,500 middle and high schoolers in Baton Rouge who have GPAs between 1.5 and 2.0 and who are now eligible to participate in sports, as well as other extracurricular activities.
In shifting to a 1.5 minimum GPA, the school system’s athletic eligibility standards are now in line with those set by the overwhelming majority of public and private high schools in Louisiana. But the downshift sparked opposition from advocates of higher academic standards. The change also sparked concerns that some students would slack off and fail to advance to college, where minimum standards are rising ever higher.
Superintendent Warren Drake, who pressed for the change soon after taking over in June, decreed that newly eligible students must participate in tutoring in an attempt to allay such concerns.
As it turns out, several schools, including Glen Oaks High, already were requiring tutoring not just for athletes with low grades, but for all athletes.
Making tutoring mandatory was one of Alicia Dedeaux’s first moves after she took over as athletic director at Glen Oaks High in 2011. All student athletes at this north Baton Rouge high school must complete at least three hours of tutoring a week and must have a teacher’s signature to prove it. That’s works out to about 150 students over the course of a year, or about a quarter of the students at the high school.
Dedeaux, who also is head girls basketball coach, said that students have windows of time many afternoons, especially between the final school bell and when games start. While some coaches let their players go home, she’s long thought it’s better if they stay at school and focus on their academics.
“You can make use of that down time,” she said. “Why not allow them to do homework projects, do extra studying?”
“If I send them home, I don’t know if they will get back (to school),” she added.
Dedeaux said that a few coaches have issues with mandatory tutoring through the years, including that it can mean later team practices, but she said in her view it’s worked well at Glen Oaks.
Adonica Duggan, head of communications, said since the shift in August to a 1.5 minimum GPA, the school system’s office of health, physical education and athletics has been tracking the school tutoring programs to a greater degree than in the past, with an eye toward identifying best practices.
“There wasn’t any monitoring at the district level of what kinds of tutoring programs were in place,” Duggan explained. “It was left to the discretion of the different athletic departments.”
While 34 more students are playing sports now as a result of the change to 1.5, Duggan said the school system expects that number to grow over time.
To handle the expected demand, Drake recently met with dozens of local church leaders to get their help in providing volunteers to allow tutoring programs to expand.
Dedeaux said lowering the GPA to 1.5 puzzled the girls on her basketball team.
“A lot of them were saying, ‘Why would they want to lower the GPA?’ ” Dedeaux recalled, pointing out that 2.0 is already fairly low.
Dedeaux, however, said the worries of critics of the change are not proving true so far at Glen Oaks High.
For instance, none of the already eligible athletes have slipped below the 2.0 mark. Also, the football players with lower grades who’ve been given a second chance are showing signs of improvement. She said one football player in particular has had an impressive turnaround.
“He has changed,” she said. “His urgency, his academics have totally changed for the better.”
Longtime Glen Oaks boys basketball coach Harvey Adger supports the shift to a 1.5 GPA.
“At least by having them here, we don’t have them on the streets,” Adger said. “If we can model what we want them to become, it makes a big difference.”
For decades, long before Dedeaux required it, Adger said he’s required his players to attend tutoring when the team wasn’t practicing.
“We’re trying to get these kids to be academians, not just jocks,” Adger said.
Adger’s commitment to academics is not new.
“Coach Adger believes in high expectations and no excuses,” is how Latesha Brumfield puts it.
Brumfield, an English teacher, is one of four Glen Oaks teachers who stays after school, in her case four days a week, to run an after-school study hall. On Thursday, Adger’s players filled many of the desks in Brumfield’s classroom. The study hall also attracted a handful of girls from the school dance teams as well as a couple of students from her English classes.
Adger routinely visits the study halls to make sure his players are all present and accounted for. And all players means all: the strong and the not-so-strong students alike.
That means Jaiden Honoré, a ninth-grader who has straight As so far, and Nicholas Cobb, a junior who tries to maintain a 3.5 GPA or better, are sitting right next to students who have more trouble in school.
Adger’s formula involves academically stronger students lifting up their weaker teammates. Students like Honoré, he said, often are better at explaining the material to their teammates than the teachers.
“(Coach Adger) tells me, ‘Go help them if it looks like they’re having trouble,’ ” said Honoré, 14.
Neither the girls or the boys teams have added new players yet who have grades worse than 2.0. But if and when they do, Honoré said he’s ready to offer his services.
“I’d help them out,” he said earnestly, “so they could stay on the team and so they could make it in life.”
Mandatory tutoring also fosters team-building and it exerts positive peer pressure on struggling students, advocates say. That group uplift comes in handy when Adger takes a chance on a player and gives him or her a second chance. He said this happens sometimes when he sits down with players to go over their progress reports, which are completed three weeks into each six-week grading period. Adger said he will give students with low grades three weeks to bring their grades up or “we’re going to have to go in a different direction.”
“You look in their faces and they have these little puppy dog eyes, and then they start to realize they gotta step it up,” he said. “Then they get around other kids who are doing it, and …” Adger snaps his fingers, “... that’s when the light comes on.”
Given all the time they spend together, it’s not surprising that Adger’s players often count their teammates as their closest friends.
“I don’t hang around with nobody but athletes,” said Cobb, who is 16. “They’re the only people I surround myself with because I know they’re on the same page as me.”
Honoré said he too spends most of his time with his teammates. He’s also careful who he spends time with, avoiding those who might get him into trouble.
“I see some kids who look like they’re going down the wrong direction,” he said.