Ferriday High opens new Star Academy

Published 10:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2022

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FERRIDAY, La. — On Thursday evening, Ferriday High School cut the ribbon in front of a $1.8 million school that “is not costing Concordia Parish School district a dollar, not even a penny,” said Superintendent Toyua Bachus.

This school year, the high school is participating in a pilot program of a ninth-grade Star Academy, the first in the district and in the region.

The Star Academy is a “school within a school” that addresses the needs of at-risk students, according to the program’s website. The program pairs hands-on learning experiences with social-emotionally based teaching to engage students and allow some to earn up to two grade-level promotions in one school year.

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This program is funded by two grants, one from the Louisiana Department of Education and another from Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office, Bachus said.

It is one of five such programs launched by the governor statewide.

The teachers who will be working with students in this program gave up all of their summer break to get things ready and visited an already existing Star Academy in Mobile, Alabama, to see what it was all about, Bachus said.

Of every Concordia Parish school impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bachus said Ferriday was the hardest hit. Gains in state testing were lost as students and teachers were forced to quarantine at home.

Piloting this new academy is one way the district plans to make up for it.

“The Star Academy is built to meet students where they’re at,” said the freshman academy director, Joseph Smith.

He said all 85 freshmen enrolled at Ferriday High would be participating in the program.

“We all know we had times during the last couple of years where students missed instructional time because of COVID. This program will meet them at that point and build them from there. It’s a great program to help students achieve. … We’re glad to be the school that is going to pilot it for this area.”

The academy, located at the rear of the Ferriday High School campus on Fred T. Butcher Way, has classrooms for core subject areas including mathematics, science, social studies and English literature. Within these classrooms are stations where students pair off and, in some cases such as the math class, learn separate skillsets from the group next to theirs.

Bachus said her goal is to see similar programs pop up at each school in the district to address their students’ specific needs.

A cybersecurity pilot program will also be launched this school year at Vidalia and Monterey High schools, she said.

“An idea and a program are only as good as the people who carry it out,” Bachus said. “When it works—because it’s not a matter of if it works but when it works—we will be able to sit down as a district and talk about what went easily and what we can do better. … If I am still superintendent, it is my goal … every school in Concordia Parish will have a freshman academy that is based on the needs of that population.”