St. Mary’s kindergarten teacher Amber Sayer of Marksville (seated) and aide Julie Lacombe of Hessmer (standing) listen to students tell them their favorite things. The “getting to know you” exercise helped the Cottonport parochial school students get comfortable on their first day of school this past Thursday. Sayer is sitting on the table that will serve as the students’ “Blended Learning” center next month, when part of the classroom period will include online instruction on iPads. Older students will be using computers for their online lessons. {Photo by Raymond L. Daye}

Tears, but no drama, mark opening day of Avoyelles public, parochial school

“Some lucky teacher will have you in her class and she will be so happy,” a visibly upset boy was told by a teacher as he walked down the hall of Cottonport Elementary to his class on the first day of school. Throughout the parish, scenes of crying children and their mothers waving good-bye were played out. Teachers went over the ground rules to set the tone for the school year. Everyone in the schools went about the business of learning each other and preparing themselves for what is to come.

The 10 Avoyelles Parish School District schools and four parochial schools started the 2017-18 school year this past Thursday. Avoyelles Public Charter School began on Friday and Nazarene Christian Academy will start classes Monday.

“It looks to be a smooth first day of school,” APSD Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said Thursday morning. “I have been going to the schools this morning and I have encountered no major problems.”

An unfortunate sign of the times is the focus on security.

Students in the four public high schools had to enter through only one entrance and walk through a metal detector. At another station, teachers searched students’ backpacks to ensure such items as weapons and drugs were not being brought on campus. That is a common procedure in today’s schools, Dauzat said.

As of Thursday, there were two teacher vacancies in the parish, caused by resignations just prior to opening day. One was at Marksville High and the other at LaSAS. Dauzat said the positions will be filled as soon as possible.

Other Central Office staff members also fanned out across the parish to help schools on opening day. “We are off to a good start,” Dauzat added.

Dauzat said preliminary estimates project the public school enrollment will be about the same as last year’s -- 5,414 students overall with 3,123 in the elementaries and 2,291 in the high schools. Official first-day enrollment figures will be compiled later this week. The state will base the district’s funding on the Oct. 1 enrollment.

The district is continuing a program that provides all students in the 10 schools free breakfast and lunch.

The first day of school at St. Mary’s Assumption Catholic School in Cottonport was about the same as all previous opening days, but this school year will be much different for the students in the K-8 school.

The difference is “blended learning,” which will incorporate online lessons as part of the classroom instruction period.

Principal Nathan Laborde said students will be assessed in the next few weeks to determine their level of computer knowledge or to see if a student needs some basic instruction on how to operate a computer.

Shortly after Labor Day, the school’s “Blended Learning” program will be in full swing, with half the class listening to a teacher-led lesson while the other half works online, and then switching midway the class period.

St. Anthony Principal Martha Coulon said the Bunkie parochial school had a “very positive first day of school. The children seemed excited to be back.”

The school has only one new teacher on faculty this year in addition to a new drama coach, Tina Smith.

The only other changes students may benefit from are additional technology items funded through a grant. One of those grant-funded additions is a large screen to be used at school assemblies, Coulon noted.

Karen Moreau, director of development and stewardship at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Moreauville, said it was “a great first day.”

The biggest change in this year is the addition of Spanish to the 8th grade curriculum.

St. Joseph Principal Billy Albritton said the PreK-12 school in Plaucheville had a good first day.

“There were no student traffic problems, everyone was where they were supposed to be and things went well,” Albritton said. “I tell people that makes me ‘cautiously optimistic’ for the school year,” he added with a laugh.

Albritton said the 119-year-old school has had several renovation projects over the summer to get it ready for the new school year.

“Through the efforts of several civic groups and the Avoyelles Sheriff’s Office and inmate community, we were able to do some cleaning, washing and painting over the summer. We are also always updating and modernizing our curriculum to meet state and national standards for our students.”

Albritton said the day was not without its moments of emotion.

“Of course,” he continued, “you always have some who are fighting back the tears -- students and mothers alike, especially for the very young children.”


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