Avoyelles Charter, St. Mary's report good opening day

All schools in parish have COVID plans in place for 2020-21

There has probably never been any other school year with so many different "first days" announced. Two schools in the parish -- Avoyelles Public Charter and St. Mary's Assumption -- started the 2020-21 school year this past Monday.

The 10-school public system has had three different opening dates since the 2020-21 calendar was adopted prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic -- Aug. 6, Aug. 5 and now Aug. 26. Those changes have resulted in adjustments of schedules for other schools in the parish.

Not only has the day schools will open been a point of concern, how to ensure the students enrolled in those schools has also been a moving target over the past few months. That, too, seems to be resolved in time for schools to start in the coming weeks.

PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS

The parochial schools traditionally follow the public school system's calendar, with a day or so difference during the year. Of course, this year is anything but traditional, so it shouldn't be a big surprise that the four parochial schools in Avoyelles Parish will start on different days.

This year St. Mary's Assumption School in Cottonport was given permission to use an extended school year calendar that resembles Avoyelles Public Charter School's, with school starting this past Monday (July 27). The school opened on schedule, despite other schools changing schedules due to the current level of COVID in the community.

"We had a very good opening day," St. Mary's Principal Nathan Laborde said. "The drop-offs went well, the students' temperatures were checked and school personnel helped show them to their rooms."

Laborde said only two classes are allowed in the lunchroom at one time, with proper spacing and shields set up between students. Students in grades 3-8 must wear masks outside of the classroom when social distancing is not possible.

The decision to go to the new schedule was made in January, before COVID was a problem.

"The intent is to break the school year up into six to nine weeks of instruction with a two-week break," Laborde said.

At this time, there is no need to divide the students into a at-school and at-home group.

"If we go backward, I do have an 'A-B' plan," Laborde said. "We would divide the students into two groups. One group would come to school and then take home work to do at home the next day. We would make sure all siblings in a family were in the same group."

Laborde said he is hoping the state does not go back to Phase 1.

OTHER DIOCESAN SCHOOLS

Diocesan Schools Superintendent Thomas Roque said the other three schools were set to open Aug. 6. When the Avoyelles School Board changed the 10 public schools' opening day from Aug. 5 to Aug. 26, the Diocese was prepared to follow suit.

However, Roque said that after consulting Bishop-Elect Robert Marshall and other Diocesan officials, and after considering the readiness of the schools, new opening days were set.
However, Roque said that after consulting Bishop-Elect Robert Marshall and other Diocesan officials, and after considering the readiness of the schools, new opening days were set.

St. Joseph High School in Plaucheville will open Aug. 7. St. Anthony School in Bunkie will open Aug. 10 and Sacred Heart School in Moreauville will open Aug. 17.

Three of the Diocese's schools outside of Avoyelles will open on Aug. 7 -- Menard High and Prompt Succor School in Alexandria and St. Mary's School in Natchitoches. St. Frances Cabrini School in Alexandria will open on Aug. 10.

Roque said the enrollments in the schools are small enough and the facilities roomy enough that the Diocese will not have to divide the student body to ensure social distancing.

"In larger classes we will divide the students to ensure social distancing," he said. "The teacher will work with each group. We will use our paraprofessionals to help make it work."

Roque said the Catholic schools "will follow all federal, state and local guidelines and protocols to protect our students, faculty and staff. Each school has developed a safety/health plan of action that will be followed."

He said the Diocese is looking forward to a "spirit-filled, strong academic year."

RED RIVER CHARTER

The parish's newest school, Red River Charter in Mansura, has changed its opening day in light of the current COVID conditions and the APSD's decision to delay opening until Aug. 26.

RRCA will be implementing a 50 percent plan, but will be dividing the student body by grades instead of by last names as the public school district is doing.

"School will start for grades 8 and 9 on Aug. 24," Principal Leigh Cole Fryery said. "The first day for grades 6 and 7 will be Aug. 31."

The week of Aug. 31 the 8th and 9th graders will stay home and either attend classes virtually through a Google Classroom link or with paper packets to work on during the week.

A survey of the schools' families found most had appropriate technology and internet access at home. The school will provide a device to those students without a computer at home. Fryery said students will be encouraged to use "hotspots" installed around the parish. The "paper packet" is available for those who cannot access the internet and Google Classroom.

Online devices and Google Classroom access codes will be/were handed out during open house this week.

RRCA is expecting an enrollment of 280 in grades 6-9. Open House for 6th graders was Monday (July 27) and for 7th graders on Tuesday (July 28). The 8th grade open house is Wednesday (July 29) and 9th grade on Thursday (July 30).

Fryery said the "virtual" week will be reviewing and reinforcing lessons taught the week before.

"We don't want parents to be teaching new content," she said.

If students were paying attention in the previous week, they should have no problem with the assignments in their "virtual" week. If they do hit a pothole, they have the Google Classroom contact with their teacher to address it.

"Weekly communication with teachers is imperative for the student to be successful," Fryery said, "especially if they will only be attending virtually."

RRCA is opening "as if it is Phase 1," Fryery said, noting groups will be limited to 10 -- nine students and one teacher. "It is easier to add students to the face-to-face class instruction than it is to take them away."

In the in-class week, students will be put in groups of nine and will remain in their classroom. Teachers will move from group to group. Meals will be delivered to the school and served to students in their "safe area."

Students and staff will remain masked outside of the classroom, where all occupants will be at least six feet apart from each other. Fryery said students will be given brief breaks during the day.

"I am excited about the possibilities for this year," Fryery said. "A 9-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio is fantastic for individual one-on-one instruction. That's a lot better than a 30-to-1 ratio.
"We will be taking a negative and turning it into a positive," she said.

APCS

This is the second year Avoyelles Charter will operate under what some call a "year round" model, which others call it an "adjusted" holiday schedule.

A school spokesperson said the first day "was going well" when contacted Monday.

When other schools sent their students home with the option of completing classwork assignments online or on paper, Avoyelles Public Charter carried on class with an online program.

This year, several COVID-specific procedures have been implemented, but the school opened as planned on July 27.

The student body has not been divided into on-premises and off-premises instruction groups, although the school does note on its website that plans are subject to change based on state mandates.

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