FACES OF CHANGE: East St. John Preparatory nears return home

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, March 14, 2018

When East St. John Elementary School burned down in August 2015, students Amere Stuart and Anjel Herrera, fifth graders at the time, feared they would be separated from the only classmates they’d ever known.

Two and a half years and a name change later, East St. John Preparatory Academy has seen growth through trials at the temporary Leon Godchaux Jr. High campus.

Fifth through eighth graders will reintegrate into a newly constructed building located at the old school site, 400 Ory Drive in LaPlace, in August 2018.

Following a 2015 fire, construction is underway at East St. John Preparatory Academy, set to open for 2018-19.

Amere and Anjel are most excited about the addition of a home gym to be completed in December.

“We never had a gym until after the school burned down,” Anjel said. “Having our own gym will make us more unique, and we’ll be able to play more home games now.”

Amere said a gym is a pride point for the school, and the new construction will be a step up from the facility they currently share with other students.

“It’s better because it’s ours,” Amere said. “It belongs to us, and we’re proud to be there. Without having to share a gym, there will be less conflict and more practice time.”

East St. John Prep boasts talented student athletes and has a massively successful basketball team, Amere said.

Principal Stacy L. Bradford said he fought for the new gym because it fosters a school culture.

“They’ll see the bobcat on the floor and know this is what they represent,” Bradford said. “Sometimes kids don’t have anything else to fight for, but they can fight for their home gym; fight for their school; play hard for what they represent.”

Bradford said the new building is going to resemble a condensed version of the Lake Pontchartrain Elementary campus that opened to students in January.

Designed by Yeates & Yeates Architects with construction overseen by Pintail Contracting Services, the 66,022 square foot main building features a host of safety nods, including single-point-of-entry and state-of-the-art security, according to Bradford.

“At the old site, you could just walk in without being buzzed in,” Bradford said. “All of that is going to be closed off.”

The new building also includes a cafetorium with a stage, music and art facilities, a science lab and an extra computer lab. Existing buildings that did not burn down are being remodeled to use for classes.

Even though it’s smaller than the old school, Bradford said there’s more space to work with because of East St. John Prep’s focus on fifth through eighth grade instead of prekindergarten through eighth grade.

The August 2015 fire was a spark that changed East St. John Elementary into the highly motivated preparatory program it is today, Bradford said.

It took a blitz of community effort and donations to get students situated at Leon Godchaux Jr. High only nine days after the fire, but the problems did not end there. Soon after the temporary campus flooded and a nearby broken chicken coop led roosters to a fight with children on school grounds.

“I told the kids, we’ve been through the fire, we’ve been through the flood, and we’ve been through the chickens,” Bradford said. “All that was left was to pass the LEAP test, and they were pumped up. We ended up showing a school growth of 9.5 points and became a ‘B’ school.”

The start to the 2017-18 school year saw prekindergarten through fourth grade students move to Fifth Ward Elementary, allowing for implementation of new courses.

“You can’t be a prep school unless you prep them for something,” Bradford said.

New classes including Spanish I, algebra I, speech I, beginning band, computer lit, key boarding and Louisiana history I allow students to attain up to nine high school credits before reaching ninth grade.

Amere and Anjel said they find the new curriculum beneficial and challenging, adding the trials the school has endured pushed students to work harder.

Struggling students benefit from Read 180 literacy courses and smaller class sizes, Bradford said.

Following the merge with struggling school Fifth Ward, the school’s average score dropped from a 85 to a 49.8 based on students’ academic data. This year, Bradford has a rigorous goal to improve the school’s performance by 25 points, to achieve a B and show the public that student performance is growing. The school is on track to achieve the goal, he said.