Lafayette Parish students were welcomed to notably calmer campuses Tuesday morning by eager teachers and administrators who are ready to be back in the classroom. Today was the annual KPEL ride-along to some of the schools with school board members Justin Centanni and Hannah Mason. It was the first ‘first day of school’ for Mason as a board member, but she has been in communications with her schools in district 8 all summer long. For Centanni, the first day of school visits are an effective way to see teachers and staff in person and wish them a great (albeit different) school year.

Lafayette High

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Right on schedule, the circle in front of Lafayette High School saw its first car line-up to drop off students. Buses lined up early to drop off just a fraction of the students they used to. Tuesday was a “B” day, so only about 40% of Lafayette High students were on campus. This reduced the rush of students who usually walk through the glass front doors of Lafayette High to a steady trickle. Every student was wearing a mask and only one group of excited students were stopped from hugging each other. It was the first time they had seen each other since the extended summer vacation that started with the closure of schools in mid-March due to COVID-19. Students were directed to their first hour classes and had to skip the tradition of gathering before class in some of the common areas. The school’s new principal, Rachel Brown, was the first smiling face they saw as she helped direct them to their classes.

Woodvale Elementary

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Woodvale is a well-oiled machine much like Lafayette High, but there were some changes to the car drop-off line that parents seemed to understand. On the opposite side of the campus, facing Doucet Road, a new wing welcomed bus riders to campus. Principal Monique Vidos was in constant contact as minor issues had to be worked through. At Woodvale, a handful of “A” students arrived on campus when they should have stayed home according to staggered scheduling. It was no match for the veteran principal who also welcomed students with a smiling face and a custom mask that had her mask-less face painted on. The new wing at Woodvale has helped to empty the butler buildings on campus. A few are still in use as offices and storage, but all traditional classrooms were moved inside this year.

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Woodvale Elementary has two outdoor classrooms built to help with social distancing while learning during the COVID-10 pandemic. District 8 school board member Hannah Mason can be seen sitting at one right in the middle of campus.

L.J. Alleman Middle School

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Brightly colored directional signs were the stand-out on the manicured campus of L.J. Alleman’s campus. Principal Eric Luquette bragged on the signs which were the idea of teachers looking to make the campus more user friendly. There were also big changes in classroom assignments due to the new wing, so the new signs were helpful especially for the incoming students.

The lush green lawns in front of the school and between wings were freshly cut by the principal. This is a common story we heard as a shortage of custodians in the district has created a challenge to get all of the building and lawn maintenance done in time for the first day of school. School board member Hannah Mason says she’s working to get estimates on lawn care at some of her campuses to take some of the burden off of the custodial staff.

Broadmoor Elementary

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Broadmoor was the final school on our tour to open a new classroom wing in time for the new school year. Truth be told, the delayed start to school probably gave the contractors just enough time to get everything into place before teachers moved in. 3rd and 4th grade moved into the new wing helping the school to dedicate a wing to each grade level at Broadmoor. The detail is hard to miss as this addition was built to match the existing building that is celebrating 50 years this year.

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Principal David Zielinski was busy working when we stopped by and we didn’t stop him. Registration is still underway and Zielinski (who is lovingly referred to as Mr. Z) was making accommodations for families on the spot. When talking about challenging family situations he has to get involved in, he takes ownership in that, saying, “When they are mine, they are mine. We’re going to take care of them.” It’s this attitude that seems to make Broadmoor such a special place for families.

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Another addition at Broadmoor is a new lobby built with safety in mind. Last school year, visitors had to be "buzzed" into the school, but that was the only protection. Now, visitors can walk in and speak to the clerk at the front window. This limits access to the cafetorium near the front of the school.

Edgar Martin Middle School

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Edgar Martin’s principal Amber Oubre is marking her first, first day of school at Edgar Martin. She was eager to jump into the new school year and excited to welcome students back to campus. During our tour, a lost student came up to ask for help and Ms. Oubre said “thanks for coming” and jumped right back into principal mode to get them where they needed to be. This was a common theme during our visits. The goal was to have students in classrooms. Teachers and administrators knew that this was going to be a challenge so they went back to basics. It was acknowledged that things would not be perfect on day one and that was okay.

S.J. Montgomery Elementary

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New Principal Roneka Coleman met us near the front entrance with a handful of paperwork. She had been in classrooms all morning making sure everyone knew where they were supposed to be. S.J. Montgomery is adjacent to Lafayette High School and has a good bit of traffic in the morning. Mrs. Coleman was out in the bus line this morning early to make sure parents knew exactly where to drop their students off.

The takeaway from this year’s first, first day of school is that faculty and staff were much more relaxed with roughly half the students coming. If you subtract the average of 20% of students enrolled in Lafayette Online Academy and then divided that into “A” and “B” days, schools had roughly 40% of the students they usually had on the first day. That is a change that many teachers we talked to said would be a nice permanent change. It gives teachers and staff two whole days to cover rules and course plans, setting out reasonable expectations for their students.

Tomorrow it will be the first day of school for a whole new group of students. “A” students will be in school tomorrow and school leaders are expecting another successful day.

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