Students grill officials on cyberbullying, future jobs
Brad Grundmeyer, director of communications for Cox Communications, introduces parish officials representing schools, government, industry, law enforcement, healthcare and the court system during the New Generations Forum.
The forum is sponsored by the Rotary Club of St. Charles Parish each year and was held at the School Board office in Luling.
Panelists included Tim Vial with the Parish President’s Office, Judge Lauren Lemmon, Superintendent Rodney Lafon, Fred Martinez with St. Charles Parish Hospital, Steve Milligan with Dow Chemical, Michael Hecht with GNO Inc. and Capt. Pat Yoes with the Sheriff’s Office. Brad Grundmeyer, director of communications for Cox Communications, was the moderator this year.
On the road
Some of the more pressing questions dealt with travel. Yoes was asked about how the Sheriff’s Office enforces texting laws and curfews for drivers under 17 after a school dance.
“Laws are meant to be reasonable - we certainly don’t want to hinder anyone participating in a school function,” Yoes said.
He said that officers will try to make a reasonable call when pulling over younger drivers after teen dances.
As far as texting goes, Yoes said that the Sheriff’s Office can try to enforce the laws but that real change will have to come from education. He said that in 2009, 5,747 people died and about 448,000 people were injured as a result of drivers that were distracted by cell phones.
“Some say that laws target young people the greatest percentage of the people who were killed in these accidents are the result of people under the age of 20,” he said. “It’s going to be a growing area - technology is here and it’s not going away.
“We can pass laws, but it’s going to have to come from education.”
The teens also asked Yoes about the dangers of dump truck traffic within the parish.
“The good news is that we have a lot of activity in our area, but none of that can happen without moving a lot of material,” he said. “We also recognize without a doubt that the dump trucks are causing problems. We have been writing ticket, after ticket, after ticket.”
Yoes said that the office has met with trucking companies and followed up repeatedly to try to make truck drivers be more careful.
In the courtroom
Judge Lauren Lemmon faced questions about term limits and today’s troubled youth.
She starkly opposed term limits, citing that judges should not have to worry about politics once elected.
“We go into court and we have to make decisions based not on how people are going to vote or how people are going to feel - we have to make decisions by what the law says,” Lemmon said. “I think term limits are for politicians. For judges, we’re a different animal.”
Students also wondered if the judge had seen any trends in young people who have to visit her courtroom.
“Juveniles don’t have role models, they don’t have guidance, they don’t have motivations and they have horrible attitudes,” Lemmon said. “I don’t know if that is society’s fault or the community’s fault. I feel like we have an obligation to speak out - make eye contact, smile at somebody, give them a compliment.
“Some of the children we see (in the courtroom) have never had that.”
Lemmon said that everyone, from kids to adults, should try their best to help others.
“If you can’t offer anybody else anything, don’t - but I think we all can,” she said.
Yoes said that of the 3,639 people arrested in St. Charles Parish last year, 463 were juveniles.
In the classroom
Students also asked Yoes about how the Sheriff’s Office deals with cyberbullying at the schools.
“That is the new battleground,” Yoes said. “We have a full division for it, and we are recognizing that the playground now where predators want to (mess with) young people is no longer within the parish - it’s online.”
Yoes said that some students have already been caught cyberbullying this school year. He said that the office gets tips from other students when an incident occurs and they sometimes bring the student in to talk about the problem.
“That’s a growing area that we’re going to have to focus on always,” Yoes said.
A few questions dealt with lunchtime, specifically about why students cannot text during lunch.
Lafon said that he believes the texting policy can change soon.
“I don’t see a reason why you can’t use your cell phones at lunch,” Lafon said. “But until we find out ways to make sure it’s built into the policy and everyone’s on the same page, it’s not going to happen. Does that help you seniors? I’m not sure.”
Lafon said that the district is also planning to expand its technology usage.
“We’re probably one of the few school systems in the area, and across the country, that has a plan in place where when the technology gets older we are in a position to replace it,” he said. “We are looking at what we can do as far as your own personal technology - what you can bring to school and what you can use.”
For the future
Students asked a lot of questions about the future for careers in Southeast Louisiana.
Milligan, with Dow, and Hecht, with GNO Inc., both encouraged students to focus on basic professional skills to make themselves good candidates for employment, whether they planned to go to college, technical school or directly into the field after graduation.
Hecht suggested students learn technical skills, like proper letter formats and powerpoint presentations. He also told students that knowing good interview and time management skills is extremely important.
“At the end of the day, there is no substitute for hard work,” Hecht said. “If you (study, be efficient and work hard), you’ll be productive and you’ll win.”
Milligan said that he is extremely optimistic about the jobs outlook for today’s Louisiana high school students.
“The east and west coasts are getting too congested and people are fleeing them - the third coast from Houston to the panhandle is the future of America,” Milligan said.
At the hospital
Students were also curious about hospital functions and how the new emergency room at St. Charles Parish Hospital will help with operations.
“With the new-designed emergency room we will be able to greatly improve the wait times,” said Martinez. “There’s a lot of new technology and a lot better work area for the employees to be able to see the patients.”
Martinez said that the average length of stay for patients who are admitted to the hospital last year was 4.3 days in the intensive care unit, 4.5 days in medsurge and 13 days in the behavior health unit, or psychiatric unit. He said all of those lengths are average for the state.
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