Parents explore school options at expo

Advocate staff photo by KARI HARDEN -- Zoe Gabriella McGinnis gets some serious play time in while her mom explores pre-kindergarten options at the 7th annual Education Expo hosted by the Urban League of Greater New Orleans.
Advocate staff photo by KARI HARDEN -- Zoe Gabriella McGinnis gets some serious play time in while her mom explores pre-kindergarten options at the 7th annual Education Expo hosted by the Urban League of Greater New Orleans.

About 3,000 families left the seventh annual Education Expo on Saturday carrying bags overflowing with information on approximately 100 local schools.

Every year, the expo, hosted by the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, has expanded and adapted to the ever-changing educational landscape in an effort to gather resources for parents trying to make the best decision about where to enroll their children in school.

In addition to the representatives from public, private and parochial schools and preschools, about 100 community organizations were also on hand to give families information on everything from health insurance and home ownership to summer camp and art programs.

Clarence Sayles and Tanisha Mitchell said that they were seeking information for schools their 6-month, 18-month and 4-year-old grandchildren might attend and found the event very useful and efficient in that they did not have to travel all over the city.

Nonprofits and advocacy groups were on hand to assist families with connecting to funding and available health and education-related programs and organizations.

At one booth, representatives from the Stand Up for Each Other organization gave attendees information on a hotline set up to help students facing suspensions, expulsions and undocumented push-outs.

Uniform vouchers, backpacks full of school supplies, performances by marching bands and dance troupes and a free lunch enticed families to show up to the mega-event in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to explore their options and learn more about what steps they need to take to apply for their top choices for schools.

In the room dedicated to early childhood education, Charlene Schexnider, owner of Ms. Dee’s Child Care and Learning Center, said she had gathered names and contact information from about 50 parents who expressed in interest in her school.

She said she provided a strong emphasis on academics — as much as the kids were ready for — with the motto, “The sooner we start, the further we go.”

Felicia Joseph, the mother of a fifth-grader, said she attended because “I like to weigh my options.”

She said she wants to make sure she finds the best school for keeping her daughter challenged.

Joseph said she was attending the event for the third year and liked how the event kept growing by including more community organizations.

“That’s what education is about — not just the child, but the whole family,” she said.

In terms of having choice, Joseph said, “Yes and no — it’s choice if everyone participates in OneApp. They need to make the prestigious schools like Lusher and Ben Franklin participate.”

The single enrollment application known as OneApp is in its second year and includes all Recovery School District and direct-run Orleans Parish School Board schools — but the OPSB charter schools have thus far elected not to participate.

Dozens of OneApp ambassadors were on hand to help answer questions and offer assistance to parents filling out applications online or on paper at the expo.

Angela Trainor, who said she was at the expo to learn more about options for her daughter entering kindergarten, said with sudden closures, changes in operators and schools in temporary locations — “it’s confusing.”

While some of the schools were familiar from when she grew up in the city, she noted that many were new.

Adrian Morgan, interim CEO of the Algiers Charter School Association, was at the expo presenting the first official literature on the new L.B. Landry — O. P. Walker College and Career Preparatory High School. While the merger has created controversy in the community, Morgan said, “We are excited to be committed to preserving the legacy of the past, and excited about the education prospects we will be able to provide in the future.”

Josh Densen, founder of the brand-new Bricolage Academy, said that interest in his school, which will start with a class of kindergarteners next fall, has far outpaced available spots.

Based on feedback from parents, he said, the demand seemed to be related to his school’s design to be inclusive of students from diverse backgrounds, as well as the approach to learning. Densen said Bricolage will introduce hands-on engineering and design concepts at an early age.

Trainor said the expo was helpful because it is hard to get a feel for a school from a website or trying to get someone on the phone.

While she said she would ideally like to find a school in her own neighborhood, the options were limited, so she said she was looking at other parts of the city and academics were the priority.

Trainor said that while every school touted its own rating as high, there still is a challenge in identifying the best schools academically in a state-graded landscape where a majority of the schools are rated with a D or an F.

“I just want her to be learning, be safe, be happy and be comfortable,” Trainor said. “The hard part is trying to make the right decision.”