Students in Red

Students at Denham Springs High School wore red on Monday, Jan. 28,  in memory of classmaate Tanner Ernest, one of the three victims of alleged gunman Dakota Theriot.

Lessons in school often extend far beyond the basic reading, writing and arithmetic, as several campuses have demonstrated over the past week.   

The aftermath of the horrific shooting spree on Jan. 26, which took three lives in Livingston Parish and another two in Ascension Parish, taught lessons one cannot find in a computer or textbook.

Instead, it was about action.

Denham Springs High School generated $6,500 from a “free dress day” to help defray the costs for the funerals of junior Tanner Ernest, his sister and 2017 graduate Summer Ernest, and their father, Billy Ernest. The school normally requests $3 for a dress day, but the willingness to help the survivors with the funeral costs spoke volumes about the school and its student body.

The record total was about six times larger than the normal take for a dress day.

It was the very least the school could do, Principal Kelly Jones said Jan. 28, the first day at school after the shooting. For Jones, as with most other K-12 educators, the loss of a student is very much like the loss of a family members.

“Without a doubt, the death of a student is the toughest part of this job,” he said. “They’re ours for eight hours, and if you do this job right, you accept that they are yours throughout the day.”

Students often spend more time around the faculty and administrators than they do with their own families over the course of a week. He summed it perfectly when he said the loss of a student very much feels like the loss of a family member.

Denham Springs Freshman School, adjacent to the DSHS campus, also stepped up to the plate with a fundraiser set for Feb. 1, after this edition went to press.

The tragedy also brought outreach from another parish – in this case, across the Mississippi River, 20 miles from Denham Springs.

Port Allen High School Principal James Jackson decided to follow suit with the same fundraising approach Denham Springs High utilized. In the end, the school collected $1,000 for the Ernest family.

It’s likely that none of the students or faculty at PAHS met the Ernest family. What they knew, however, was that the same scenario could have occurred in West Baton Rouge Parish.

Jackson is no stranger to such situations. As a New Orleans area native, he lived in the Crescent City during Hurricane Katrina, when donations and help from outside the area was the only means of survival for many.

He saw it as a means of paying it forward.

“That could’ve easily been us, just as people reached out to us during floods and other disasters,” he said. “This is one of those life lessons schools need to teach their students … it’s so much more than what you get out of a book.”

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