Lafayette, Louisiana is the home to the Azalea Park neighborhood, a local housing project with a less than stellar reputation. Mary Moss is an educator to the children who call Azalea Park home. She works daily with the children who call this area where violence and drugs their playground. She is a veteran principal that turns the sidewalks of Azalea Park into her classroom as she teaches reading, writing, and a lesson in compassion.
Moss was formerly the Principal at L. Leo Judice Elementary, but has now been assigned to Alice Boucher Elementary in Lafayette. She noticed that the children who came from Azalea Park seemed to have a learning disadvantage at the inception of the school year because their study skills had not been reinforced over the summer. So, she began her tour of duty and started to travel to the neighborhood and tutor the children herself.
During the summer of 1999, Moss spent five hours a day, five days a week for seven weeks seeking out children to tutor. Initially, her greatest challenge was skepticism and distrust. Many could not accept her initially and would only look out at her through closed curtains. The community was not sure what she wanted from them and only assumed that was the case. They were not used to having anyone coming to them, seeking them out to care for them. She did not give up; but she stayed dedicated to her cause. Gradually the community realized she was there to help the children. The doors began to open, and children began to receive the specialized attention they deserved.
Her efforts did not go unnoticed. The children returned to school in the fall and were earning better grades. Because of the definite success of the summer tutoring, she continued her program. She began to go to the area every afternoon after school to continue tutoring. She also spent the summer of 2000 just as she did in 1999, tutoring the children.
Moss is excited about the change. She sees children who used to fail now earning honor roll grades in many or most of their classes. In addition to that, one of the greatest breakthroughs was with the parents. It seemed that they were previously not taking an active role in their child’s life, their education in particular. There is a definite difference in the way they discipline and work with their children at home.
During her 30 years as an educator, Moss has learned quite a bit. She initially believed many children were mistreated or not being cared for because their parents or guardians did not care. She learned, though, that sometimes people need to be taught to care. Some adults have never received unconditional love. She knows you can get people to care by reaching out and caring for them without judging them, always accepting them for who and what they are.
Moss hopes her work will not just break the cycle of violence and despair some children face but will build a new future. She knows a new circle needs to be started; the children need a new beginning filled with positive aspects to channel their drive and help them set goals. So she is now teaching other how to tutor and mentor and the benefits of doing the same.