ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - The Rapides Parish Alternative School (RAPPS) is a way the district helps students get back on track. Last fall, Tioga student Conner Delaney began his senior year at RAPPS, after a minor incident at his school.
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"I mean it was bad at first, but it turned out to be a blessing in the end,” Delaney said.
The program is a way for students to leave distractions and get their work done, so they can get back to their home schools.
"They are all here for a reason, but I don't treat them any differently than I would treat my own kid,” said RAPPS teacher Jason Lachica. “Everyone makes mistakes."
It was also Lachica’s first year teaching at RAPPS. Delaney was assigned to his class and sat close to his desk.
“He would ask for my help,” Lachica said. “I’d roll over there and we would get after it."
Before the year was through, Delaney would nominate Lachica for the Golden Apple Teacher award and he would win. But, their bond was deeper than appreciation, it was a friendship.
Lachica came to learn Delaney had a tough story. He lost his father a few years ago.
"Of course there is not a day that goes by that I don't think about it,” Delaney said.
Unfortunately, Lachica was no stranger to heartache.
"I was in the cafeteria one day and I said, ‘I heard you got dealt a rough hand,’ and without missing a beat he just took a bite and he said, ‘Yeah, I heard the same about you.’"
A month prior, on July 14, Lachica's son Hayden fell asleep at the wheel and died at the age of 19.
"Hayden was full of life,” Lachica said. “The way that I can explain or describe him is he tried to get everything he possibly could into one day."
He wasn't his biological father, but it never mattered. The two would meet while Lachica was teaching at Grant High School in 2013. Hayden introduced Lachica to his mother Stacy and they married.
"To some blood matters,” Lachica said. “To us, it doesn't. It is either, you are family or you are not."
Adoption papers were finalized in May, just two months before the accident.
"For me, the first year is the roughest year, there are many days when I would walk out in that hallway and cry,” Lachica said.
Lachica said his wife has always been his rock, but meeting Delaney this year gave him unexpected hope.
"He was a blessing at a time where I needed something positive,” Lachica said.
The same was true for Delaney.
"Just being here with somebody that had a big hole in their heart, just lost that person,” Delaney said. “It just made it easier, just made it easier."
He was able to graduate on time from Tioga this year. Lachica was there to cheer him on.
"He helped me pretty much get through the year,” Delaney said. “I mean it was awesome, just for him to be there and experience me walking across the field."
RAPPS Principal Clovis Christman knew the students needed Lachica.
"It is very important that they have positive male role models in their life,” Christman said. “Someone that they can relate to, and someone that will take time to listen to them."
But Lachica needed them just as much, especially Delaney.
"If he can do it, I can do it,” Lachica said. “It almost is kind of right to be able to meet here in a classroom and kind of help each other through it."
After his year of challenges, Lachica hopes others learn to cherish every moment.
"You walk in their room and you hug them,” Lachica said. “You tell them you love them because you really don't know the last time you will have that opportunity."
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