Written by: Beth Misner
Ivan and I (Beth Misner) hosted the BNI regional Member Extravaganza winners at a breakfast on Saturday morning during our New Orleans trip in October 2014. We invited Damon Smothers, the school psychologist who had coordinated the school visits from the previous day which I have written about earlier on this blog site, to our BNI breakfast. We asked him to share with our guests the vision he has had for some time of the Smothers Academy, a public school for boys with a prep school focus. Here is a summary of what he told us:
The personal experiences that have inspired me to begin this quest to educate students began in 1986 before graduating from McDonogh #35 High School in New Orleans. During the summers of my sophomore, junior and senior years of high school, I had the opportunity to work as a counselor/teacher with a program called “Camp High Life,” which was part of the Children’s Defense Fund.
My responsibility was to teach music to at-risk children in the New Orleans urban areas and assist the classroom teacher with academic instruction in the areas of language arts and math. Working with the children at this camp, which at times exceeded 500 students, was the greatest experience of my life.
As I often reflect, this encounter was the catalyst that sparked my desire to improve the lives of children. After graduating from high school, I continued to work at the camp for the next three summers. I witnessed the power of love, high expectations, commitment to excellence, and consistency incorporating these attributes as being the primary components for ensuring a successful outcome for all children, regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnicity. Working with these underprivileged children led me to the field of School Psychology and the dedication to and eventual fulfillment of the creation of Smothers Academy Preparatory School for Boys.
To describe the full implications of the early years would take more pages and probably will bore you to death. To further explain, I was awakened early one spring morning in 1996 and began typing on the computer. I awoke with a restless spirit and wanted to create in my mind the “perfect” school for children. I had recently graduated from Tulane University and not yet begun my graduate level education at Louisiana State University, but I knew in my heart that I was destined to work with children in some capacity. I was not aware that God had already ordered my steps and all I needed to do was stay on the path and allow Him to move through me.
By the time I looked up from the computer my newlywed wife told me that I had been typing for four hours without a break. Before I knew it, I had produced the framework and vision of Smothers Academy.
Since then I have worked as a School Psychologist in Bakersfield, California, and also operated my private practice, Smothers And Associates Psychological and Educational Services. My private practice was responsible for maintaining placements of children who were in foster care and aided in maintaining stability for those families who had recently adopted children.
The entire focus of Smothers And Associates was to offer a continuum of services in a holistic approach of mental health services and education at the same facility. At the height of operations, Smothers and Associates had two offices and 35 employees. I was responsible for maintaining exemplary services, offered transparency to the Kern County Department of Human Services and maintained a high success rate with the families that we served.
Smothers And Associates offered private tutoring, individual and group therapy, play therapy, parent counseling, foster care support groups, an older youth adoption program and the Smothers Academy Summer School. The summer school was a tremendous success over four years. We took pre and post test data and found that the approach of meeting students where they were, then using their strengths to move them through the curriculum, was critical in remediating their deficiencies.
During this time we began an after school athletic program, Smothers Academy Huskies Tackle Football and Cheer Program. We were able to create a culture of academic excellence and athletic dominance as we fielded two football teams and cheer squads 10-12 year olds and 12-14 year olds. Smothers Academy’s explicit academic requirement was that student athletes maintain a 2.5 GPA to remain on the team. Failure to do so rendered a student athlete ineligible, as did suspensions and detentions. Our student athletes consistently exceeded expectations, and I am most proud of the number of students who earned 3.0+ GPA.
Our students displayed leadership skills at their respective schools. The Smothers Academy coaches and I frequently received calls from principals expressing their support of the program and welcomed our philosophy of high expectations of academic excellence and conduct, each expressing the positive effect on their achieving their academic and behavioral goals.
Since moving back to NOLA, I have witnessed the systematic destruction of the public school system. It resembles a science experiment that has gone terribly wrong and the scientists don’t want to admit it for rear of losing their funding. I know with certainty that the Smothers Academy way of instruction, culture, support for our teachers, complete competence in our Headmaster and support staff will prove that an environment embedded in a culture of love and high expectations will thrive in this unnecessarily violent community that so many of these kids live in.
I am certain that the principles and standards that we have set forth in our charter will ensure that the students will be prepared to compete on a international level. The ultimate goal and an easy description is to have an institution that is publicly funded, but which resembles a high quality private school. I would like Smothers Academy to be the premiere K-12 institution in the United States graduating students who will be sought after by fortune 500 companies after graduating from their respective colleges and universities.
How I see BNI contributing to the success of Smothers Academy today is by continuing to spread the word about our institution with local BNI members contacting the Jefferson Parish Public School Board and advocating for Smothers Academy to educate the boys of this community, especially the children of color who are not performing well in the district as a group. They could also contact the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and relay the same message requesting their support for the charter describing the overall benefit and positive impact to the State of Louisiana.
The ROI for BNI would be a competent and educated workforce for your members to tap into for future employment. Once we get open I would like some BNI members to be involved in our Young Entrepreneurs Club. We already have the curriculum, and it has been successfully tested in CA when I was the founder and Executive Director of the California Junior Black Chamber of Commerce Kern County. I would like our students to be matched with BNI members who can offer internships to our boys giving them access to careers that they might not otherwise have access to.
Access to capital, sustainability projects and fund development are crucial in the longevity of Smothers Academy. As a federal tax exempt charitable organization, we are in a good place to receive funds from multiple sources. Donations can be made through the BNI Foundation with further direction to Smothers Academy.
I truly believe in the concept of “teach a man to fish and he will eat forever”. Smothers Academy is committed to finding unique and innovative ways to generate funds, create businesses and contribute to our own economic infrastructure.
Since sharing this story with us, Damon has started facilitating our first Stand Up Youth Ambassador Program at Mcdonogh #35, sponsored by the BNI Foundation through the Business Voices movement.
Ivan and I have written to the Jefferson Parrish School Board President, Mr. Cedric Floyd, and the BESE 3rd District President, Dr. Lottie Beebe, to advocate for the creation of the Smothers Academy, and we would like to ask our BNI members to do the same.
Please email Beth Misner for the suggested text of the email to send and to let the Misners know you are supporting the Smothers Academy this way. It will bring a smile to us, I promise you!