Phoenix Communities of Nola Is a Wonderful Educational Resource for at Risk Youth

Photo Source: Phoenix Communities of NOLA

Phoenix Communities of NOLA is a program that hopes to set young students on a good path and equip them with the education and skills needed for a sustainable life. 

The non-profit was founded by Tiffany Courseault, an educator with fifteen years of experience and a Master’s degree in education. An Alabama native, she attended the University of Alabama and, upon graduating, worked for a wholesale plumbing company in Pensacola. However, after some time with the company, she was laid off due to company cutbacks. So, at her brother’s suggestion, she moved to Louisiana in 2007 to become a teacher.

“They needed teachers and I had never considered teaching but I decided to just go for it,” Courseault said. 

She fell in love with education while teaching at Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School in LaPlace. She returned to university and received her Master’s in education from Nicholls State University. 

In 2013 she moved to New Orleans and began teaching at Andrew H. Wilson, a Charter school.

“I was there and I thought I would teach there for the rest of my life,” she said. “Unfortunately, if a Charter school doesn’t do well, the school loses the Charter.”

Courseault began teaching at Dwight D Eisenhower Elementary, another Charter school, and later at The Net Charter High School, an alternative high school in Central City.

She currently works in student affairs at the University of New Orleans.

While working in middle school education in New Orleans, Courseault noticed that students’ literacy was low. This was her first hint that her students needed some extra attention.

“I had seventh-grade students and I was teaching them phonics and literacy skills- a lot of them couldn’t read,” she said.

She also saw needs in other areas. Many students came from tumultuous, impoverished homes where parents were in and out of their lives. Food insecurities are common, and for students like this, their main meal of the day is the meal they have at school. 

Desperate to make ends meet and put food on the table at home, some children have no choice but to take to Bourbon St. and perform for tourist tips. 

Education isn’t or can’t be a top priority for these students. Courseault explained that when middle schoolers don’t get the attention and resources they need, they end up in alternative schools that are often just a means to an end.

The turning point for Courseault was in 2019 when one of her students, whose mother was in and out of his life, stole a car with another teenager. During a police chase, they crashed the vehicle into a hair salon, causing a three-alarm fire in the building. The two students died, and four others were injured during the incident.

“I saw the full-circle of what can happen if we don’t help the students who need guidance,” she said. “Working with middle school students, high school students, and now on the college level, I’ve seen what can happen if we don’t help these students before it’s too late.”

Desperate to give these young people some guidance, Courseault began looking into available after-school programs. Most, she explained, were only available to students for specific schools or students up to age ten or twelve.

 Photo source: Tiffany Courseault

“A lot of these programs are for when students are in the red, but what if the student is in the yellow?” she said. “What if one conversation can stop them from doing something that will change their lives?”

Phoenix Communities of NOLA is a wrap-around program that will give students, between ages twelve and nineteen, the tools they need to be a success when they complete their education. First and foremost, the organization will focus on students’ mental health.

Courseault explained, “A lot of studies show that mental health has declined for school-age children and that there’s a link between mental health and crime. Right now, we have eleven-year-olds who are committing crimes. If we can save ten kids from going down that path, that would be something special.”

She said that New Orleans is a city that isn’t built for children, and there aren’t any activities or alternatives that can keep them engaged. She plans for Phoenix Communities to be open daily from 3:00 to 10:00, providing classes and programs to keep kids engaged. Classes would go until 7:00, but the center would be available until 10:00 so that eighteen and nineteen-year-olds have a safe space.

Phoenix Communities of NOLA, which will begin its first courses in June 2023, will offer five programs focusing on the Black experience, including health equity and career development. The program will be free for students and parents, and safe transportation will be provided for students to and from the center.

“It’s going to be a safe space where students can develop and grow,” Courseault said.

Class sessions will be offered monthly, ranging from STEM-based courses to barbery and cosmetology classes, carpentry, culinary, cultural enrichment activities, and standard academic prep and tutoring. All classes are fifty minutes, and will be geared toward the career component and will provide students with skills they can carry into the workplace.

Phoenix Communities will also have mental-health counselors on staff and serve all participants hot meals, which Courseault explained is especially needed.

“At the end of the day, there are a lot of food insecurities in this city,” she said. “With the way our economy is going, money is tight. Even when we weren’t technically in a recession there were students who were tap dancing for money just to feed their families.” 

Courseault is looking for Phoenix Communities of NOLA’s permanent home in the seventh ward or New Orleans East, where there is the greatest need. She’s currently working on securing funding for the non-profit, and she’s planning community service events, including Trunk-or-Treat in October and a toy collection drive in December. In March, she will hold a gala at Xavier University, which will raise support for the program.

“We don’t start classes until June, but we want to be a part of the community; we are a community-based organization,” she said.

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