ST. AMANT — A two-story classroom building just for ninth-graders is being built on the campus of St. Amant High School with groundbreaking for similar freshman academies occurring in the coming weeks at two other Ascension Parish school district high schools.
At St. Amant High, foundation work has begun on the 48,000-square-foot building that will ease crowding, move classes out of temporary buildings and give a brick-and-mortar home to a “freshman academy” instruction program established for all ninth-graders in the school district nine years ago.
The program features team teaching, class scheduling so that students have the same group of teachers throughout the day and enrichment and intervention for students who are struggling.
The ninth grade “is such a huge change from middle school,” said Beth Templet, associate principal of the freshman academy program at St. Amant High.
The program “provides support for the students academically and socially,” she said.
The new freshman academy building at St. Amant will “solidify that feeling of being in a group,” she said.
The students will have their core classes in the new building but still have physical eduction and some electives in the main school building with 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students.
“Our concept is not a total separation, but more a migration from middle school to high school,” Chad Lynch, director of planning and construction for the school district, said.
Later this month, there will be a groundbreaking for a freshman academy at East Ascension High School, and a third one will get underway at Dutchtown High School this fall.
The school district voted early last year to fund the freshman academies at the three crowded east bank high schools, each with a population of about 2,000 students.
With the addition of the academies, the school district plans to support 2,200 students at the three schools, with each freshman academy serving 600 students.
At St. Amant, there are more than 500 freshmen this year.
“At some point, we’ll have to build another high school” on the east side of the parish, Lynch said.
The majority of the $49 million cost for the three freshman academy projects — $37.5 million — is coming from a surplus of sales tax revenues generated by industrial construction in recent years.
A $2.1 billion expansion of the CF Industries plant in Donaldsonville that began in 2013 spurred much of the growth in sales tax income, said Diane Allison, director of business services for the school district.
“We started seeing significant sales tax revenue from the CF Industries expansion in April 2014,” Allison said.
The remainder of the $49 million is coming from 2009 bond money.
Donaldonsville High School on the west bank of the Mississippi River isn’t experiencing crowding, so a ninth-grade classroom building isn’t planned for the school’s freshman academy program.
The first phase of the construction project now underway at St. Amant will include the classroom building for freshmen; a new, larger cafeteria and kitchen; an outdoor courtyard and event area that will serve the whole campus; and a new parking area for students, which was finished in time for the start of school.
The bus drop-off area for the high school will be moved to the freshman academy building. Students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades will make their way via a lobby area in the new building to the main school building.
It’s hoped that the first phase of the freshman academy project at St. Amant will be completed by late fall 2016.
The project at St. Amant High, which opened in 1976, will cost $16.2 million and is funded by tax revenues and 2009 bond money.
At East Ascension High, which opened in 1965, the school where the next academy will be built, the cost will be $17 million and also will be funded by tax revenues and 2009 bond money. The project will include a new cafeteria and kitchen as well.
At the newest of the three east-side high schools, Dutchtown High, which opened in 2002, the academy project will cost $12.8 million, funded by tax revenues alone, and will include modifications to the existing cafeteria.
Freshmen at St. Amant are now attending classes in several locations at the school, including a smaller building on campus, temporary buildings and the main school building.
The new academy will reinforce the unity of the program that is already working.
“We had a 99 percent passage rate for our freshmen last year,” Templet said. “If they come here, we get them out.”