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Landscapes, Summer 2008

THEN & NOW

In the summer of 2002, Landscapes visited with school supervisor Linda Bordelon and students at the then-new Louisiana School for Agricultural Sciences. Since that time, this nontraditional school, which incorporates agriculture into its entire curriculum, has graduated four classes and moved into new facilities.

Graduating to a New Level

Louisiana School for Agricultural Sciences

Photo Alan Karchmer/Courtesy of Tipton Associates APAC

Louisiana School for Agricultural Sciences

As Erica Lacarte, a 19-year-old Bunkie, La., student, approached her high school graduation three years ago, she was profiled in the local newspaper. Her comments probably could be attributed to any of the 58 students who joined her that year in the first graduating class of the Louisiana School for Agricultural Sciences (LaSAS).

"I am who I am," Lacarte said of her LaSAS teachers, "because they believed in me before I did."

Those words, and the many success stories of students like Lacarte, are sweet reward to Linda Bordelon, whose vision and tenacity led to the school’s founding in 2000.

From 54 Students to 304
Since its inauspicious opening in temporary quarters housing an eighth-grade class of 54 students, LaSAS has moved to a state-of-the-art 12-acre campus, which is now home to 304 students from eighth through twelfth grades.

students

Photo by Jim Lincoln

This photo of horticulture students in LaSAS’ own greenhouse ran in the original Landscapes article.

The site features an 80-person conference center, where students provide catering for on-campus events. "The culinary arts program is very popular, and the students have won first in state in culinary arts competitions," Bordelon says. Other popular programs include horticulture and entrepreneurship. "The public plant sales that the students hold from the greenhouse are very popular," she says. Students also travel to the barrier islands for coastal erosion projects, and last year 30 seniors participated in internships with parish businesses.

"Students learn more effectively when concepts are connected to real-world application," says Bordelon, a former teacher and curriculum specialist, who often challenged her pupils with ag-related assignments, such as studying the mechanical differences between tractor makes and models. She conceived the idea for the Louisiana agricultural school after visiting the Chicago High School for Ag Sciences.

buildings

Photo by Alan Karchmer/Courtesy of Tipton Associates APAC

Agriculture is a part of the curriculum at the Louisiana School for Agricultural Sciences.

Learning to Run a Business
Students develop a business plan for an entrepreneurial endeavor — for instance, horticulture students might sell poinsettias, or culinary arts students might open a catering service. They develop spreadsheets, track profits and expenses, and learn what it is like to run a business. All students are members of FFA, and the academies of study and work experience are part of the FFA curriculum.

Demand for the nontraditional school continues to grow. "The school district is expanding the charter to include seventh grade because of demand by parents," says Bordelon, who retired as supervisor in 2004 but remains on the school’s advisory board.

"Those kids were greatly in need of a nontraditional school setting. Just to graduate from high school was a great accomplishment."
— Linda Bordelon

Linda Bordelon and her late husband, Jules, longtime members of Louisiana Land Bank, were driving forces in creating the school’s charter and gaining broad financial support for a new educational concept to address Avoyelles Parish’s alarming high school dropout rate.

Targeting At-Risk Students
As a Type 4 charter school, LaSAS serves six rural parishes. Its goal is to reach an at-risk portion of the local population. The school maintains a low student-teacher ratio to ensure that each student receives personal attention. The goal for the first graduating class in 2005 was not college so much as simply graduating.

"Those kids were greatly in need of a nontraditional school setting," notes Bordelon. "Just to graduate from high school was a great accomplishment." However, LaSAS does promote and offer college preparatory classes.

Linda Bordelon

Photo by Jim Lincoln

Linda Bordelon, pausing for this photo in 1992, oversaw construction of the school.

These days, though, not only are graduating rates positive but LaSAS student test scores rival the scores of any public school in Louisiana, and students are pursuing college in increasing numbers.

"The state looks at a school’s test scores, attendance and dropout rates and gives it a school performance score," says Bordelon. In its first year, LaSAS’ score was 43. For the last academic year, the school achieved a score of 70.8, and the goal for the 2007-2008 school year is 78.5. That compares to the state average of 85.7.

What would students change about LaSAS? According to Erica Lacarte, nothing.

"We all grew together, (nearly) 60 students starting from scratch," she told the local paper, just before graduating with the first class in 2005. "We didn’t know what to do and we grew with the teachers. We all fit to the circle we built."

Article by Sue Durio
– Photos by Alan Karchmer/courtesy of Tipton Associates APAC and Jim Lincoln