New Normal, Bright Future

With innovation, technology, and a whole new campus in the works, West Feliciana Parish Schools begin an exciting—and safe—semester.

Raising the bar is nothing new for West Feliciana Parish’s A-rated public schools. This August, with students returning to West Fel’s four campuses amid the new “normal” of the coronavirus pandemic, the schools’ educators and administrators are stepping up without ever losing sight of the big picture: safely and effectively educating today’s children to become the leaders of tomorrow. Weeks of careful planning helped local schools open doors in early August with two big objectives in focus: community health and safety, and the continued commitment to excellence that defines public education here.

“It’s been a very interesting few months, but we feel really good about our plans for the 2020–2021 school year,” says Superintendent Hollis Milton. “We’re fortunate to have a lot of factors in place that allow us to reopen safely.”

Reopening Safely with Distance-Learning, the Right Ratios, and a Turn to Technology

Those factors, which include an already low student-to-teacher ratio, manageable bus system capacity, and strong technology infrastructure, are enabling the schools to offer a mostly face-to-face return, while also accommodating any family’s need to distance learn. 

Elementary and middle school students will attend school in-person Monday through Friday. High school students will have face-to-face instruction every day except Wednesday, when they will learn remotely. Families who prefer may opt into a distance-learning-only option that includes a school-provided laptop computer and hotspot.  

Teachers and administrators have worked diligently to establish a fleet of new safety protocols, says Milton, who understands firsthand the impact of the coronavirus. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalized in the spring.

“I have incredible respect for the virus, so I take these health and safety measures very seriously,” Milton says. “We are carefully following every guideline that’s expected of us.”

Teachers and students from third through twelfth grades are required to wear masks. Desks are spaced to ensure social distancing. P.E. and recess activities have been retooled to fit public health protocols, and breakfast and lunch are served in classrooms rather than the cafeteria. Smaller groups of students, rather than the entire student body, take turns transitioning between classes. Hand sanitizing is a regular occurrence, and water fountains have been retrofitted to become water bottle refilling stations.  

Despite Coronavirus, New Elementary School On Track

Meanwhile, the school system hasn’t lost sight of the exciting plans underway to build a new elementary campus and renovate the high school. The design for the new Bains Elementary, which will serve first through fifth-grade students, is nearing completion. The new school is expected to open in fall 2022, and its larger capacity will help accommodate the parish’s anticipated population growth.

A rendering of the administrative wing inside the new Bains Elementary School, opening in fall 2022. Courtesy of Coleman Partners Architects.
Preparing Kids to Lead in a Different World

“It’s really exciting,” says Milton. “Every corner of the building is designed to foster learning and encourage leadership and exploration. We are preparing kids to lead in a different world, and we’re using a modern, innovative approach to help us.”

The new Bains will feature adaptable spaces that encourage thoughtful discovery. Forget narrow hallways and stairwells; here, halls and stairs are broad, well-lighted spaces that act as spur-of-the-moment learning spots for small groups. Similarly, the new library, called the media center, is completely open, welcoming students throughout the day to retrieve books and access resource materials. The new school will also feature a café-style cafeteria where kids can explore varied food stations.

“Studies show that an open library design has been proven to increase reading rates among students,” says Milton. 

A rendering of the media center at the forthcoming Bains Elementary School. Courtesy of Coleman Partners Architects.
At the High School: Better Security, Career Tech, and a New Gym

The virus also hasn’t slowed down scheduled improvements at West Feliciana High School, which include better security features and traffic flow, and a new Freshman Academy that will help ninth graders transition into high school life. Later this year, says Milton, the school will break ground on a new 1,500-person capacity gym that includes an onsite spirit store to be run by students.

Once the new gym is completed, the current gym’s interior will be transformed into a new Career Tech Education Center. Aimed at students interested in attending a community or technical college, or in going to work after high school, the center’s classrooms and labs will feature instruction on welding, carpentry, certified nursing assistant training, electrical work and other fields. The high school’s already successful ProStart culinary arts training program will be relocated to the center, and it will include a new adjacent outdoor café where students will be able to practice restaurant industry skills.

“We are really excited about being able to expand our career tech programs,” says Milton.

A Freshman Academy

The forthcoming Freshman Academy is viewed as an innovative way to foster students’ success as they move through their high school years, adds Milton. The Academy will function as a small education community within the high school.

“It won’t be isolated from the high school, but will be a community of learners going through the same significant transition,”  says Milton. “We know from research that when we invest in the ninth grade transition, it projects future success, including better graduation rates and rates of taking dual enrollment courses.” 

It’s yet another innovative program in a district committed to impressive achievement.

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