Temporary campus to feel more like home in 2013

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 2, 2013

By David Vitrano

RESERVE – When East St. John High students return from winter break, they may still be at their temporary home at the former Leon Godchaux Junior High, but school life will feel much less chaotic than it did for much of the previous semester.
With most of their school flooded by Hurricane Isaac just as the semester really started to get rolling, the students first had an unexpected three-week intermission before returning to a temporary campus at Leon Godchaux that could only hold half of the student body at one time. Since then they have had to attend school on a “platoon” schedule, with half of the students having class from 7 a.m. until noon and the other half from noon until 5 p.m.
But when classes finished, another type of work began, with contractors working feverishly to provide some serious upgrades to the campus so the entire student body can resume a normal school day and things can at least begin to feel normal, if not exactly look it. Ninth-grade students at the Freshman Academy will also be able to resume normal school hours. Although that building was not flooded, the students there must follow the same schedule as the upperclassmen because of teachers’ union regulations.
To achieve this sense of normalcy, 31 portable buildings have been placed on the campus, covered walkways are being constructed between them and electrical systems are being wired to handle the electrical demands of the modern classroom. The portables will house everything from regular classrooms to the field house and a wood shop. Also, an additional 120 parking spaces will be available.
“The contractors are working at a very brisk pace,” said East St. John High Principal Patricia Triche.
Inside the portables and inside other classrooms on the campus, things will look a little different, too.
“Every portable building will have top-of-the-line accessories,” said Triche. “All the curriculum needs of the school, everything’s brand new.”
While this may seem like a lot of work for a campus the high school students will abandon this summer, Triche noted that because of the extent of damage at Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School, that school’s students will likely be housed at Leon Godchaux for the foreseeable future.
Besides returning the familial atmosphere to the school, the elimination of the platoon schedule will bring another benefit — afterschool tutoring, which had been unavailable because classes have been conducted until 5 p.m. since Isaac struck.
According to Triche, besides giving contractors time to complete construction work, the winter holidays have provided a much-needed break for both students and teachers.
“These kids, some of them lost everything in their houses,” said Triche, adding, “When you have any kind of tragedy, at first everyone is running off of adrenaline. Then, everyone gets tired.”
Triche, however, has had little time to rest because as construction wraps up at Leon Godchaux, plans are just getting started for a renovated East St. John High campus.
“Not only are we opening this campus, but we have to think about the next campus,” said Triche.
That thinking will have to go beyond merely restoring what was damaged for the facility to keep up with the progress the school has made recently. Under Triche’s leadership the school’s performance score has grown from 57.6 to 102.3. Additionally, its educational focus has grown to include a large degree of career readiness in fields such as industry, hospitality and business.
So while the basic structure must remain the same because of FEMA regulations, the look and feel of the renovated campus will be completely new.
“Our school was well up kept, but it was outdated,” said Triche. “We’re trying to get our kids career ready. I want it to have a real college-prep feel. This is an opportunity for us to renew.
“We’re going to be able to do a lot more innovative things.”
That innovation, it seems, will touch just about every aspect of school life, right down to its food service.
“The cafeteria will look more like a food court,” she said.
These changes, while adding aesthetic appeal, will offer students in programs such as business or food preparation and service the opportunity to apply their lessons in a real-world setting.
Other changes reflect unfortunate aspects of the modern American school.
“Security is going to be a major issue,” said Triche.
Renovations at East St. John High are scheduled to be completed in mid July.
Although the work of running a school with a fragmented student body from a strange campus while helping to plan a revitalized home campus can seem insurmountable, Triche said her faculty have truly pitched in and stepped up in whatever way necessary, making her job much easier. Her students, likewise, have given her reason for optimism.
“Despite everything we have been through, our end-of-course scores went up,” she said. “We have to start counting our blessings. There’s a silver lining in every cloud.”