Karol Osborne | 12/4/2018 9:03:17 PM
(12/04/18) MARKSVILLE, La. — Stanley Celestine Jr. may be the youngest school board member in the Avoyelles Parish School Board, but he is no newcomer as a youth advocate.
At only 19, Celestine won the District 5 school board seat with 65 percent of the vote and is currently the second youngest school board member in the country elected to serve.
“I understand a lot of the issues that our students are facing,” he said.
A 2017 graduate of the Louisiana School for the Agricultural Sciences, Celestine is pursuing a degree in sociology with a concentration in family and child studies at McNeese State University.
He began honing his leadership and communication skills at a young age as an Avoyelles Parish 4-H Club member and said much of his success is attributed to those 4-H experiences.
“Everything that the 4-H program has taught me has contributed to the success of this campaign,” he said, pointing to communication and project management skills and having the self-confidence to step outside of his comfort zone.
LSU AgCenter Avoyelles Parish 4-H agent Sheena Grote said Celestine serves as an inspiration to youth and adults in the parish.
“As a 4-H member and now as a volunteer, he always shows others the abilities they have and works with them to achieve success in themselves,” she said.
Celestine said one of his goals is to incorporate greater student voice into the school system, offering opportunities for students to engage in a policy and decision-making process that benefits both students and the community.
Another goal is the promotion of educational models that provide wrap-around support systems and social and emotional development programs for students, he said.
“I learned about those models the previous year while preparing for a public speaking contest at 4-H University,” he said, adding that his research centered on cost-effective innovations that schools can implement to address mental health as well as behavioral and emotional challenges.
Celestine said he has been preparing to run for office for two years, since soon after participating in a Disney Dreamers Academy leadership program.
“I already had a lot of tools from the 4-H program on how to run a campaign, but the academy served as a spark,” he said.
He said the experience left him with a vision to get more involved in the local school system.
“I was already involved, but I felt like I wasn’t doing enough,” Celestine said.
As founder and chief executive officer of Truly Thrive, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2013, Celestine has worked to empower youth from across the state for more than five years and has already assembled an impressive resume.
Truly Thrive is a youth-led organization he started as a ninth-grader.
“4-H encouraged me to start Truly Thrive,” he said, adding that his 4-H experiences served as a catalyst allowing him to use many of the skills and resources he had acquired.
After serving as a 4-H teen leader on a National 4-H mentoring grant administered through the AgCenter Avoyelles Parish 4-H program, Celestine said he knew there was something missing that young people needed.
The experience led him to want to better understand how children are affected by social and emotional experiences and use ideas developed as a result of his 4-H experiences to create change in a new way, Celestine said.
Truly Thrive sponsors summer mentoring camps for underserved youth, supports annual We Teach STEM learning tours for classroom teachers, promotes the Louisiana Safe Sleep initiative to reduce infant mortality rates, and offers state and national professional development training for its youth and adult team members.
“Every experience I have had with Truly Thrive has helped prepare me for the school board,” he said.
Working with the nonprofit organization, Celestine said he has collaborated with diverse stakeholders, learned budget management, program evaluation strategies, accountability and teamwork.
“We work one-on-one with organizations to create a youth-led model in which young people are designing the programs, contributing to their implementation and involved in the evaluation of the program’s effectiveness,” he said.
Louisiana 4-H programs are excellent examples of such youth-led models, he said, citing 4-H Junior Leadership Conference and teen-led state leadership boards specifically.
AgCenter 4-H Youth Development department head Janet Fox remembers Celestine’s ability to articulate clearly his vision for a positive educational future for underserved audiences.
“The 4-H Youth Development Program emphasizes youth voice, and Stanley stood out due to his desire and drive to make things better in his community,” she said.
Seven 4-H state leadership boards include the 4-H Executive Board, Citizenship, Shooting Sports, Food and Fitness, Fashion, Performing Arts, and Science, Engineering and Technology (SET).
Celestine served three years on the state 4-H Executive Board, as state historian-reporter in 2017, as a 4-H National Conference Delegate in 2016, and as central region representative in 2015. He was also a member of the 4-H SET Board and helped form the first Avoyelles Parish SET Board.
At 19, Stanley Celestine is one of the youngest school board members in the country. The Avoyelles Parish native credits 4-H with helping him develop leadership skills and a passion for youth advocacy. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter