SORRENTO — A building on Airline Highway that began life in the 1970s as a Louisiana Technical College, then became part of River Parishes Community College, has opened as an Ascension Parish school this year for the first time.
The APPLe Digital Academy that opened last week at 9697 Airline Highway in Sorrento is not a traditional school. All of the classes are computer-based, using online curricula, with teachers in the classroom for support and help, and its 233 students go there for different reasons.
A little under half, 113, go there to continue their education after being expelled from school.
"I think the kids really want to stay focused, so they can maintain their stature of being on pace so they can return to their home-based school at the earliest opportunity," Principal Harry Wright said.
Another 68 students are those who choose to be home-based students, also using online curricula available 24/7 and coming to the academy for testing.
Those students could be following young acting or singing careers that mean they'll be traveling. Rodeo competitors have used the home-based curricula, as well as one young man who is in a competitive motorcycling circuit, Wright said.
And, said Mia Edwards, director of secondary education for the school district, "Some kids don't do well in regular school settings."
The remaining students, 52, are working toward their state-issued high school equivalency.
The School Board has long had ties to the Airline Highway facility that it is now taking over for use as a non-traditional school.
With the extra large classroom spaces that came with the building's former life as a technical college, the academy will begin offering classes in scaffolding, insulating and coating this month to high school students on the east side of the school district who will be bused there for part of their school day.
The instruction and equipment will be provided by Geismar-based Apache Industrial Services, Edwards said. A west-side program continues at Donaldsonville High, she said.
Heating and air-conditioning technical classes are coming too.
The academy moved into the Sorrento site this summer, from its former location in Darrow, after a $2.9 million renovation on the Airline Highway campus that added a large cafeteria building for students. Breakfast and lunch will be delivered from Sorrento Primary.
The academy will also be moving away from its APPLe name (for Ascension Parish Program for Learning and e-education, reflecting the electronic, online aspect).
The School Board recently voted for the completely spelled-out name of Ascension Programs and Pathways for Learning, e-education and career training.
The board has long had oversight of the property in Sorrento, which the federal government has designated as Section 16 land that is to be kept for public educational purposes.
A Louisiana Technical College was built there in 1977. Later, when the state's technical and community colleges merged in the mid-1990s, the then newly established River Parishes Community College (RPCC) in Sorrento used the Airline Highway building as an off-campus training center.
In 2014, RPPC opened a new location in Gonzales and added a new technical training center there a few years later, moving its classes out of the Airline Highway facility.
When that happened, the property reverted to School Board use, under Section 16 regulations, Chad Lynch, the district's director of planning and construction said.
The academy's former site in Darrow, originally Marchand Elementary was built in 1958 and had flash-flooding problems with some of its classroom buildings. The district was looking at renovations there that would have included expensive elevations of buildings, Lynch said, before the new location in Sorrento became available.
On Friday on the second day of school, Principal Wright said that the start of the new school year was "going extremely well."
Most of the students who were sent there after being expelled hope to return to their home schools. They are taught in classes that are kept purposely small to provide one-to-one attention, and are given emotional and social support, said Wright, who was assistant principal at Scotlandville Magnet High School before coming to Ascension Parish.
"We really have great kids here and it makes the job extremely rewarding for our faculty and staff," he said.