TANGIPAHOA PARISH- A quick place for a play break is something Erica Oliver says is never hard to find around Hammond.

That's why she was surprised to hear online financial news and opinion website, 24/7 Wall Street, ranked the Hammond metro area the fourth worst place to raise children. (Article here)

"I do think it's unfair," she said. "You can always find something negative, but there's so much positive here."

The report cites "an index composed of violent crime rates, graduation rates, preschool enrollment rates, and the share of the population with access to areas for physical activity like parks and recreation centers" in its research of the Hammond Metro area, which actually encompasses all of Tangipahoa Parish.

The report reads, "Just 61.7% of the Hammond population has access to locations for physical activity such as parks and gyms, one of the smallest shares nationwide. Violent crime can also hinder outdoor recreation. There were 769 violent crimes reported per 100,000 Hammond residents in 2015, more than twice the national violent crime rate." It finishes saying, "Hammond also has some of the worst educational outcomes of any metro area. Just 74.0% of high schoolers in Hammond graduate within four years, far less than the 83.0% national rate."

The article's sourcing includes a 2015 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, the FBI's 2015 Uniform Crime Report and the 2017 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. The report offered a disclaimer that "only metro areas for which such data was available were included."

But Parish President Robby Miller said the article is based on isolated statistics which do not tell the real story.

"I find this report very interesting in several ways, and of course, I absolutely dispute its claims," he said in a statement. "While I don't recall being asked to provide any data to assist in this report, our parish has recreation facilities throughout our boundaries, and we have many opportunities for children to participate in organized sports - football, baseball, basketball, soccer, cheer and dance."

Miller continued, "Although we are working for more, there are immense choices in our offerings for education - public, private and charter - and within these systems we have offerings for Montessori, magnet, International Baccalaureate, and much, much more. This report neglects to mention our Louisiana Technical Community College campus, nor does it take into account that we are home to Southeastern Louisiana University, which has been recognized for its innumerable honors on state, regional, national, and yes, even international levels."

Miller finished, "Our parish is exceptional. When there is a need, when there is fun to be had, when there is an issue to overcome - We Move. There is no doubt in my mind that if the author of this report spent just a day or two in Tangipahoa Parish there is no way our parish would have been included on this list."

When it comes to what's happening inside the actual city limits of Hammond, leaders say that quality of life for kids has grown leaps and bounds and that progress continues.

Regarding schools, Hammond-area school board member Brett Duncan says, "There's not very many cities that can brag about having an International Baccalaureate school that's an option both at the elementary, middle and high school levels. We have free Montessori education that's offered at one of our other 5-8 schools. We're implementing a new STEM Magnet program at another school."

"I believe we have a lot to offer here as a city within the education area, but we certainly recognize that we have some work that we want to continue to do," he said.

Mayor Pete Panepinto points to award-winning parks with new equipment and unique offerings like chess, fishing and a skate park. He says there are also upcoming recreational additions like a competitive pools that even schools can use to create swim teams. The mayor is also proud of an innovative city-sponsored after school program that provides snacks, homework help and exercise. In some instances, the program is free and includes transportation from school and to the child's home. (Details here)

As for quality of life for the general population of 20,000 residents, Panepinto notes a revitalized downtown area, consistent Cleanest City awards and a competitive executive airport. He also says the police force has a quick closure rate and has been beefed up with more officers and a new traffic and K-9 division.

"I just think that the City of Hammond has so much to offer for so many. I think we care, we care about the city," he said, "So Hammond, for those who don't know about it, once you come and visit, you usually come back."

The only other Louisiana metro area in the report's top 25 is Monroe, at number 6.