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Youth Empowerment program sets eyes on LaFayette students

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By Alton Mitchell

A program that has shown some promise with youth in west central Georgia now has its eyes set on an elementary school in LaFayette and its students. The director of that program was in LaFayette on Monday evening to give and update on what he is looking to do and the possible results it can bring to the community if implemented here.

Jerome Cofield, is the founder and director of a youth empowerment program in the LaGrange, Ga area. In September of 2016 he began a program at Whitesville Road Elementary School to try to curve the behavior of at risk young men at the school. The program that he called “Empowerment Wednesday’s” showed results with data that Cofield submitted on Monday night.

Under the program the “Empowerment Wednesdays” takes a dress for success approach to getting the young men in the program to show improvements in their behavior and grades. Students who are at risk for behavior issues are dressed in professional attire such as neckties on Wednesdays each week. While working as a behavioral specialist at Whitesville Road Elementary, Cofield noticed trends in behavioral infractions at the school. In August of 2016 he noted that there were 39 students with behavioral infractions. The following month there were 79 students received infractions for behavior.

In September of 2016 Cofield started his program. His original estimates showed the program would serve 12 at risk students. By its second week there were 45 students participating in the program. The results showed almost immediately according to Cofield. By October 2016 there were only 29 infractions for behavior among students at the school. That number was sliced in half in November with only 14 infractions. By December of 2016 it was down to 10. Cofield did not that around periods when there were prolonged holidays such as the Christmas break the numbers did rise for behavioral infractions slightly.

In addition to the behavior improvement Cofield states that there were also improvements in grades. The program goes beyond just dressing in a more professional manner for the young men. It also allows students to take field trips and receive positive male influence from fathers. Some of whom have been absent in the lives of some of the youth. The youth also take field trips to locations including the Think Academy in Lagrange.

One unique trip has included students from LaFayette’s Eastside Elementary School. Three students from that school were among a group that traveled to an Atlanta Hawks game when they battled the Portland Trailblazers. Individuals at Phillips Arena in Atlanta noted the young men in the group who were dressed in professional attire. The group was noticed by the Hawk’s mascot and cheerleaders who took photos with the group.

Cofield now has hopes of bringing the program to LaFayette by the start of the 2017-2018 school year. As of now the roadblock facing Cofield is funding. He needs to come up with an estimated $7200 to run the program in LaFayette for nine months. Cofield outlined a few ideas he had for acquiring the needed funding to get the program rolling locally. There appears to be growing local support for the program. Principal Burnette from Eastside Elementary was on hand and stated that she was looking forward to making this work and the positive interaction is very much needed.

There is no word on when Cofield hopes to begin his fundraising efforts locally, but he is still aiming to have it in place hopefully to start the school year in August.