DUTCHTOWN — Beau Blunschi admitted he was a little nervous on Wednesday as he spent his first day at Dutchtown Middle School.
The 11-year-old sixth-grader, who enrolled at Dutchtown after finishing his studies at Duplessis Primary School, was among approximately 730 students who attended Dutchtown Middle on the first day Ascension Parish students returned to class for the 2012-13 school year.
Johnnie Balfantz, the school district’s public information officer, said a first-day count of students on Wednesday showed districtwide enrollment at 19,587 students — an increase of 636 students over the first day last year, despite the state’s new voucher program that was supposed to decrease enrollment.
Superintendent Patrice Pujol said first-day numbers typically aren’t reliable and that school officials “will be keeping a close eye over the next few days to see if we get any significant shifts in the numbers.”
In addition to Ascension Parish public schools, students also returned on Wednesday to parochial schools in the parish. Students at Ascension Catholic Diocesan Regional Schools, Ascension Catholic Schools, St. John Primary School and St. Theresa Middle School all started class on Wednesday. Faith Academy and Ascension Christian School students return on Friday.
While Beau was apprehensive on his first day of middle school, a group of other students sitting near him during lunch at the school’s newly renovated cafeteria were excited to return from their summer vacation.
“You don’t know what your teachers are going to be like, so it’s fun and exciting,” Rylie Crochet, 11, said.
Uzoamaka Njoku, 11, said she was looking forward to “learning new things and seeing new buildings being built and getting an iPad.”
The Dutchtown Middle School sixth-graders are among about 1,800 sixth- and ninth-graders in the district who will receive Apple iPads this year as part of the district’s “one-to-one” technology program.
Dutchtown Middle and Dutchtown Primary, which share a campus on La. 73, are two of eight schools in the district that welcomed students back on Wednesday while still undergoing construction.
A new classroom building has been added, along with new parking lots, while the cafeteria has been enlarged and renovated.
A new gymnasium is under construction, and workers were present all over campus on Wednesday.
Doug Walker, who is entering his 10th year as principal at Dutchtown Middle, said the school’s eighth-graders were the first ones to dine in the remodeled cafeteria, which is shared by both the elementary and middle schools.
“It was nice to hear them ‘ooohing’ and ‘aaahing,’” Walker said. “It looks so great, and it’s nice to see them appreciate it.”
He classified Wednesday as a “normal first day” despite the construction, adding that most of the students were excited to be back in school and see familiar faces that they hadn’t seen all summer.
“Really and truly, we’d like this to be just like any other day,” Walker said.
Angelique Gaudin, the school administrator who handles in-school suspensions, said the most important part of the start of school is getting students in a routine as quickly as possible.
The ongoing construction at the school, which is entering its second year, isn’t going to prevent that necessary routine from being initiated, she said.
“The teachers have handled that beautifully,” Gaudin said.
“The teachers have already started teaching,” Walker said. “We try to hit the ground on day one and go.”