New Conservatory School for Visual and Performing Arts Coming to Baton Rouge

A new arts-focused conservatory school that many are calling “the Juilliard of Baton Rouge” may be going to a vacant campus on Goodwood Boulevard, according to The Advocate. The proposed new school will focus on preparing local area teenagers for career paths in the performance and visual arts, including music, dance, theatre, and more.

The proposal of this new conservatory school is part of East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Sito Narcisse’s plan to add more attractive academic opportunities to the parish in an effort to counteract the declining enrollment numbers from the past few years.

If implemented correctly, this arts-focused public charter school could very well attract new families to the district. In addition to these new families, many students begin their public educational career in various elementary arts programs but are left with fewer and fewer options as they get older; this is seen in the Baton Rouge area, as there is no currently no high school dedicated to the visual and performing arts.

Recently, Superintendent Narcisse had organized a large delegation, which included six EBR School Board members, to visit several education art schools in Miami. Coming away from the trip, many board members were able to see the benefits of students attending high schools like the New World School of the Arts, a downtown Miami arts high school of about 500 students.

School Board member Mike Gaudet, who was impressed by the survey, said, “after what I saw at Miami-Dade, it makes me jealous that we haven’t had this before. It’s just the kind of thing that we just need to get on the boat and get it going and make it happen. Our students deserve this.”

Superintendent Narcisse has previously worked in school districts with conservatory schools, and he has been pushing the idea that Baton Rouge needs its own school dedicated to a particular focus ever since he took over as superintendent in January. He officially proposed the idea in July, but after it was met with initial resistance from the board, he set is aside to better prepare its introduction.

At the November 18th East Baton Rouge Parish School Board meeting, the board voted to reopen Broadmoor Middle School, a facility that has been closed and vacant since 2019, to be recreated as a conservatory school for sixth through twelfth graders. The newly approved magnet school is scheduled to open in fall 2023 with the school also serving as the home to summer camps and after-school art classes that will be accessible to students across the district.

Executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge Renee Chatelain had said that this new school will serve as a catalyst for improving arts education in the larger surrounding community. Chatelain has already begun talking to Baton Rouge artists who have left the city to return and teach at the new school at least for short stints. She commented saying, “I’m asking them, ‘Please come back and be adjuncts.”

It stands to reason that charter schools championed by the school district can be a draw for families at their educational options. In fact, preliminary enrollment numbers for East Baton Rouge Parish Schools have increased by approximately 800 students since last school year with nearly all of that growth being attributed to students attending district-sponsored charter schools. On the other end of the spectrum, enrollment is down at non-charter schools. When compared with last year’s data, non-charter school enrollment has decreased by approximately 800 students and a total of 2,200 students from two years ago.

Chair-elect of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge Ralph Bender said of the opportunity, “investment in an arts conservatory will lead to a sizable return on investment due to retention of talent, recruitment of master teachers and professional artists. If you look at great artists who left Baton Rouge to go elsewhere and make their mark, perhaps they would be here if there were more opportunities like this. It will elevate the artists and master artists who live in Baton Rouge but whose work could be expanded.”

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Subsidized Internet Service and Free Tablets Available to Qualifying East Baton Rouge Students

After a school year of hybrid, virtual, and unconventional instruction, students in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System will have a chance to receive free tablets and lower internet costs this school year, according to BRProud.

With the influx of technology in classrooms across the country, more and more students become reliant on computers, tablets, and smart devices to ensure equitable education. Educational technology has been called a spectacular “equalizer” in regards to all students regardless of socioeconomic background having equitable access to the same learning materials- as long as all students are in the same learning environment, namely a school.

This equitable education begins to become less attainable when students are kept out of the classroom as they are in the summer months, contributing to learning gaps the following school year. Though the learning disparities had never before become more obvious in Louisiana than when schools closed or adapted to hybrid or virtual instruction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly students living at homes without internet or reliable devices on which to access the internet were kept out of the virtual classroom in addition to the physical one.

This lack of access to reliable internet and technology in Louisiana’s more underserved communities is seen by many as a crisis, but a new program has been implemented in East Baton Rouge Parish that has parents applying for free tablets and reduced internet costs thanks to federal funding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The “Lifeline Program” has been offered by Phoenix Marketing since 1985 to low-income consumers who seek out a discount on phone services. Lifeline is part of the Universal Service Fund, an FCC initiative that connects Americans with telecommunications companies. According to the FCC’s webpage explaining the facets of Universal Service, “today, the FCC recognizes high-speed Internet as the 21st Century’s essential communications technology, and is working to make broadband as ubiquitous as voice, while continuing to support voice service.”

This recognition by the federal government that internet access is an essential resource in modern society has contributed to the funding of Phoenix Marketing’s new program that brings internet service (provided by Earthlink) to qualifying applicants. Any parents or guardians of a student in an East Baton Rouge Parish school who qualify for Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, Section 8, Veteran’s Pension, or a specific income level threshold can qualify to be a recipient of either subsidized internet services or a free tablet.

Applicants can qualify if they have current, active participation in any of the above-listed government benefit programs or if their total household reported income meets Federal Poverty Guidelines. Internet services provided as a part of the Lifeline Emergency Broadband Benefit include unlimited talk time, unlimited texting, and 10GB of data a month for just $8.90.

CEO of Phoenix Marketing, Marcel Miner commented on the ease of the application and acceptance process saying, “once we’ve verified that they’ve qualified, then we go into Earthlink’s tool and we process the order and put their emergency broadband discount on that.”

Calvin Mills is the CEO and Founder of SLT Technology in Baton Rouge; SLT is a workforce development firm that provides Louisiana citizens with technology and certified training to advance their careers and businesses. Mills pledged additional support to East Baton Rouge Schools by announcing their efforts to offer IT certifications to students in the EBR school system and provide a pathway into cybersecurity careers to students who would otherwise be not college-bound.

This investment in the future of Louisiana education and workforce was commented on by Mills who said, “our state wants to put people to work; they want people to find careers that are sustainable for them, cybersecurity pays upwards of six figures.”

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East Baton Rouge Parish to Purchase Land to Prevent Flooding

In an ongoing effort to prevent flooding, East Baton Rouge is considering purchasing several hundred acres of land as a method of holding rain runoff, according to The Advocate.

Though the project is still in its early stages and doesn’t yet involve landowners, East Baton Rouge Parish has collected nearly $45 million to preserve 540 acres of floodplain areas across the city-parish. The funds were allocated from both federal hazard mitigation and the Louisiana Watershed Initiative, a 2016 recovery grant.

The aim of the city-parish to purchase the vast acres, including the 200 acres of low-lying swamp along Bayou Duplantier,  is partially to block the lands from being developed. If the goal of the purchases is to ultimately limit the flooding in the area, then new developments bringing the installation of new asphalt and concrete would undercut those efforts as these materials cause rain to run off and not be absorbed by the ground. Outside of merely sitting on these lands, another central aim is to create retention ponds on these acres, potentially easing ongoing flood problems.

Local area flooding has continued to be a hot topic for the state ever since more than 1,200 homes in East Baton Rouge Parish alone were inundated by the storms of mid-May. City-parish Transportation and Drainage Director Fred Raiford told reporters that weather patterns tend to indicate that severe rains are happening more and more frequently, and local leaders need to adapt as a result.

Raiford believes that these future detention and floodplain conservation areas can also help to reduce the risk of the downstream impacts that other proposed drainage improvements could have on surrounding parishes. To emphasize this point, he provided the example of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ $250 million project to clear and “de-snag” Bayou Fountain, Ward Creek, Jones Creek, and two other waterways in EBR Parish. Despite the scope of the project, the Corps attests that the plan will ultimately speed up the flow of these waterways and not cause negative effects on the parishes located downstream, namely Ascension and Iberville Parish.

In speaking of the impact of the recent storms, Raiford said, “some of these storms, you talk about 50-year storms or 100-year storms, well, they’re happening two times, three times a year, and that ain’t good. You’ve got to look at some ways to reduce the flood risk.”

Fact Sheet estimates indicate that conserving the land around Bayou Duplantier near Lee Drive would cost the city-parish $8.5 million and the Ward Creek conservation project, which would purchase 140 acres of floodplain southwest of Airline Highway and the adjacent sides of Highland Road, would cost $5.7 million.

Both purchases will be funded through Governor John Bel Edwards’ signature $1.2 billion Louisiana Watershed Initiative that was implemented as a result of the detrimental 2016 floods. Previously, the initiative used $5 million to dredge and ultimately improve the stormwater storage capacity of the University Lakes near Louisiana State University’s campus. The effort also improved the ecology of the area in addition to decreasing the likelihood of flooding.

Presently, the University Lakes empty the waters accumulated by rainfall over a dam into Bayou Duplantier and end up draining through the 200-acres conservation area that is currently being surveyed by the city-parish. Current plans exist to clear two miles of the bayou’s drainage channel.

Often required by development rules, these detention and retention ponds are vital to the conservation of local areas that are prone to flooding, and as a result, they have become regular fixtures of newer neighborhoods and commercial developments in not just Baton Rouge but across the state.

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Baton Rouge Students Earn Associate Degree & High School Diploma

Recently, an innovative new program has emerged in Baton Rouge Louisiana that involves local high schoolers earning an associate degree and a high school diploma at the same time, as reported by an article from The Advocate.

The program is similar to other early college programs that have emerged in Louisiana in recent years, though this particular Baton Rouge-based program, known as the East Baton Rouge Career and Technical Education Center’sEarly College Academy, is set to zero in on specific, high-demand, higher-paying job fields. The end result is to have students walk out of high school and right into a job, having gained the education and experience alongside their diploma requisites.

Earlier this year in March, a memorandum of understanding was signed for the new academy by officials from both the Baton Rouge Community College and the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. Though, the coronavirus outbreak and the surrounding closures of schools shut down the operations involved in opening the academy and getting students enrolled. However, officials from the two educational institutions recently reconvened to sign a proclamation that commemorates the partnership between the school system and the community college.

Though the program is beginning with a manageable, smaller size than intended, it’s allowing officials to observe what does and doesn’t work about the program from the onset, as four Baton Rouge teenagers from Broadmoor Senior High School are starting their associate’s degree alongside their diploma pathway this month.

These students started the year by taking both their high school and college-level classes strictly online, and they’re set to return to twice-a-week instruction in-person soon. The in-person instruction will have students taking their traditional classes at Broadmoor High and taking their field-specific college courses at the school system’s Career and Technical Education Center. These four students are the first ninth-graders to attend EBR CTEC, and they’re joining 155 juniors and seniors from other local high schools.

Chancellor of Baton Rouge Community College, Willie Smith told the Advocate just how graduates of the program can make an immediate impact upon exiting. He stated, “Could you imagine — we’ll have 18-year-olds now paying taxes — what that will do for our community?”

Similarly, Associate Superintendent Ben Necaise, who was filling in for Superintendent Leslie Brown addressed students at the ceremony directly by saying, “Congratulations for taking that plunge and being the first students to go through this amazing program. We can’t wait to see what you do.”

These four students from Broadmoor High entering the program are pursuing associate’s degrees in automotive as well as information technology with more degree pathways to be added in the future once the program opens up to more high schools.

So far this year, the students have been taking online IT courses as they await a return to in-person instruction that will allow them to gain experience that comes with full utilization of the hands-on lab equipment.

One student learned of the program just by viewing a promotional poster in the office while he was registering for school earlier this year. He viewed the program as a good opportunity to broaden his expertise, as he had already begun independently learning how to code.

The Executive Vice President of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, John Spain, traced the genesis of the program all the way back to 2008 when he and other civic leaders were trying to decrease the amount of teenagers dropping from local area high schools.

This program, once expanded, wil serve as a great companion to a high schooler’s education as it’ll propel them directly into the workforce just as they receive their diploma, making the students an active investor in their education as early as Freshman year.

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30 Interesting Facts About Louisiana

Located in the southeastern region of the United States, Louisiana was the 18th state to join the union by attaining statehood on April 30, 1812. Today, Louisiana is the 31st most extensive, or biggest, state as well as the 25th most populated state. It shares borders with three states, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi. The remainder of the state’s border, the southern border, is lined by the Gulf of Mexico. It is known to some by such monikers as the Sugar State, the Bayou State, the Creole State, the Child of the Mississippi, and the Pelican State. Louisiana consists of 64 parishes, the state’s specific version of counties. Its capital city is Baton Rouge. In the next 30 facts written by theFACTfile, we will learn more about Louisiana’s history, people, geography, economy, and more.

  1. The first inhabitants of what is now known as Louisiana were Native American tribes such as the Natchez, Bayagoula, and Chitamacha.
  2. The first natural gas field was found at a depth of 400 feet in Louisiana in the year 1823.
  3. Because of past fertility of its land, Louisiana was once known as one of the richest regions in America due to the indigo, sugar, and cotton industries making the white statesmen rich.
  4. Louisiana was a French colony between 1682 and 1763.
  5. France relinquished Louisiana and the Isle of Orleans to Spain in November 1762.
  6. René-Robert Cavelier names Louisiana in the mid 1600s in honor of King Louis XIV of France who reigned from 1643 to 1715.
  7. The food and culture of the state reflects the longevity of early French and Spanish settlers’ influence on the state.
  8. The Louisiana State Capitol is the tallest state capital in the U.S. Inaugurated on May 16, 1931, the capital building is 34 stories at a total of 450 feet tall. This tallest of capital buildings was built under the direction of former Governor Huey P. Long, who was assassinated in the building in September of 1935, four years after the building’s inauguration.
  9. The nickname “the Pelican State” comes from the numerous pelicans that once inhabited the state’s gulf coast. These pelicans indigenous to Louisiana have since gone extinct, and now, the pelicans found on Louisiana’s gulf coast are actually brown pelicans from Florida.
  10. Louisiana is one of the leaders in the country’s leading oil and gas producing states.
  11. In August 2005, the Category 3 hurricane, Hurricane Katrina, devastated some parts of Louisiana, particularly the 9th ward of New Orleans. The damage dealt by the storm was underestimated as the possibility of levees breaking was not taken into account. Katrina eroded 73 square miles of Louisiana coastland, and caused the death of an estimated 1,500 Louisiana citizens. It resulted in more than $100 billion in damages. Louisiana hurricane season lasts from June through November each year.
  12. During its first centennial in 1912, Louisiana adopted its official flag depicting a pelican mother feeding her own skin to her three chicks with the below inscription saying, “Union Justice Confidence” in front of a deep blue background.
  13. The Mississippi River both runs through and borders the state.
  14. The state has been governed under 10 different flags since the Spanish conquistador, Hernando de Soto, landed in 1541.
  15. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase, buying 530,000,000 acres of territory in North America for $15 million from Napoleon Bonaparte of France. This purchase effectively doubled the size of the United States at the time.
  16. The original Louisiana Purchase territory is now split into 13 states.
  17. Louisiana boasts no official language. English, French, Spanish, and Vietnamese are among the most common spoken languages in the state.
  18. It is one of the wettest states in the United States.
  19. Along with being the capital, Baton Rouge is an important inland port due to its location along the Mississippi River.
  20. Louisiana leads the U.S. in crawfish and shrimp production.
  21. This is a mostly flat state. The highest point, Driskill Mountain, is 535 feet, or 163 meters above sea level. The lowest point in the state is New Orleans at 8 feet, or 2.5 meters below sea level.
  22. Louisiana land can be divided into three types of regions: lowlands, hills, and terraces.
  23. Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” is a big festival boasting numerous parades that takes place the day before Ash Wednesday. The Mardi Gras festival has been held in New Orleans since 1838.
  24. Louisiana was home to important contributions in the US space exploration program, such as the production of the C-5 boosters used in the Apollo moon landing.
  25. This is the only state to have political subdivisions called parishes rather than counties like the other 49 states. Jefferson Parish is the largest population-wise, and Cameron Parish is the largest land area-wise. There are 64 parishes total.
  26. LA state license plates have had the following phrases appear on them: “Bayou State”, “World’s Fair”, and “Sportsman’s Paradise.”
  27. The capitals of Louisiana have been as follows: New Orleans from 1812-1830, Donaldsville from 1830-1831, New Orleans from 1831-1849, Baton Rouge from 1849-1862, New Orleans from 1862-1882, and finally, Baton Rouge since 1882.
  28. The geographic center of Louisiana is located 3 miles southeast of Marksville in Avoyelles Parish. The whole state is 380 miles long and 130 miles wide.
  29. Coincidentally, the state’s shape resembles the capital letter “L” or a boot.
  30. Louisiana is a major producer of corn and soybeans.

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