Charter Schools in Acadiana continue to grow in student attendance. There are hundreds of students on a waiting list to get into Lafayette and Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academies.
Dr. Mary Louella Riggs-Cook is the woman who brought the very first charter school to the Hub City.
Dr. Cook is a farmers daughter who was raised with the belief that education is the key to anyone’s success and that all children should have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
“I’m a true believer that with the three institutions family, church, and school.. that success is inevitable,” said Dr. Cook. She is currently the owner of Lo’s Boutique in the Northgate Mall but, she is known for more than selling fashionable clothing items.
Dr. Cook began her educational journey as a social studies teacher after graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “I was able to teach the children where they came from, the history and the possibilities of where they could go,” she said. “Instead of just teaching from the book, I taught from life experiences,” Cook added.
From teaching at Lafayette High, Acadiana high, Northside and becoming the Principal at Carencro Middle School, she believed she gained a true understanding of the school system in Lafayette.
“The typical public school was going through a change. Where on the northside of town specifically, the majority of the schools were not as successful as they could be because of over crowdedness and lack of certified teachers,” she said.
It became important to her that parents had a choice. She realized it was time to open a charter school.”I was not able to be myself. I was not able to teach what I knew needed to be taught. I had to follow a curriculum,” Dr. Cook added.
Her first attempt to open a Charter school by herself was a complete fail. She succeeded the second time when she met another group with the same vision. They opened Lafayette and Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academies at the same time.
“We follow the state curriculum, but we enhance it by giving the children an opportunity to use their experiences to get where they need to go,” said Dr. Cook.
Her work has provided free public education for thousands of children from all walks of life. For the future, she hopes all school systems tap more into technology and equip teachers with the right resources.
“To reach those challenges. So they can be prepared for the 21st century, the 22nd, 23rd for life,” she added.
Dr. Cook is the president of the Lafayette Charter Foundation. She now enjoys spending the majority of her time building self-esteem for men and woman at her boutique inside the Northgate Mall.
Dr. Cook reports that the two charter schools now have a waiting list of over 900 students.