Ponchatoula celebrates "Lights on Afterschool"
By: Kathryn J. Martin
On a recent Thursday afternoon, the Ponchatoula Community Center was abuzz with excitement when loved ones joined their children to participate in the annual “Lights On Afterschool” celebration.
The national Afterschool Alliance organized the event 20 years ago and is America’s only national rally for afterschool programs.
More than a million people were expected to be involved at some 10,000 locations for the evening to celebrate the program’s success as well as its 20th anniversary.
Showing support for this educational outreach, such landmarks as the Empire State Building, Times Square, parks, etc., glowed bright for the evening with blue and yellow lights.
At the local level, Professor Gadget from Mad Science held the attention of adults as well as students as he performed what looked like magic tricks but explained along the way as “science”.
First Lady Kim Zabbia was so amazed at his teaching skills, she complimented him by saying, “If I’d had you as a teacher in school, I would have definitely majored in Science!”
Having three children of his own, the professor knew how to hold attention and had eager volunteers, including every student at some point, individually and collectively in teamwork.
“Volunteered” by the children’s exuberant “Ma-yor! Ma-yor! Ma-yor!” and “Li-sa!, Li-sa!, Li-sa!” were Mayor Bob Zabbia and Human Resources Manager Lisa Jones, who along with Director May Stilley, have made the afterschool program dream a reality.
Contained in the presentation was encouragement to “do schoolwork, learn something new every day and show appreciation to those who care for you.”
In real life “Prof” said his wife was an engineer with the Corps of Engineers in Dallas and he was in the mortgage industry but both were looking for ways to give back to their community.
When they discovered “Mad Science”, they knew it was for them and relocated to New Orleans. They “perform” at parties, schools, zoos and library functions and look forward to being part of parish library summer programs.
Everyone enjoyed a delicious meal with Jambalaya prepared by Donald Lanier and Jimmy Schliegelmeyer and other foods brought by parents and teaching staff.
Parents interviewed beamed as they expressed appreciation for the Ponchatoula afterschool outreach program and the big positive difference it is making in the lives of their children.
After a rousing family game of Bingo, the city’s third annual “Lights on Afterschool” ended on the same positive note it had begun – a celebration of success.