Baton Rouge school brings classes to the kitchen table

The classrooms at St. Joseph Academy in Baton Rouge were empty Tuesday morning, but a mile west in the dining room of a home in Capital Heights, sisters Elizabeth and Lauren Foshee were still in school, virtually speaking.

The Catholic girls school experimented Tuesday with schoolwide online classes.

Sitting around the kitchen table, the casually dressed, not-in-uniform sisters stared at their school-issued laptops, puzzling over Spanish vocabulary words and diagrams outlining corruption in the Middle Ages.

“I tried to do some work last night so if it snowed I could play,” said Lauren, a sophomore.

The snow, however, was nowhere in evidence Tuesday afternoon, just light rain fell on the porch, and it wasn’t cold enough to turn to ice or snow. As it turned out, the daytime produced a little sleet but no snow.

St. Joseph’s Academy students have Wednesday off as well but no new assignments. The private high school, however, may revive the online experiment Thursday if the bad weather persists.

The teenagers took advantage of the day at home in a typically teenage way — sleeping in past the normal start of the school day at 7:30 a.m.

Elizabeth, 18, usually an early riser, slept until 8 a.m. Tuesday while Lauren, 16, who often pushes it until 6:40 a.m., slept until about 8:30 a.m.

Unlike most Tuesday mornings, the rest of the family was home. Like the girls, their stepfather, Jack Lasseigne, a structural engineer, was working remotely from home.

Lauren had assignments in three classes, and Elizabeth, a senior, had five classes to tackle. The older girl finished one assignment that was due by 10:15 a.m. and completed the rest of her work by early afternoon, including reading part of the Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

Unlike her younger sister, Elizabeth was not too interested in the possibility of snow. Student body president at the high school, Elizabeth, wearing her St. Joseph’s Academy sweatshirt, seemed very much on task as she stared intently at the screen.

Still, she finds it more difficult working at home.

“You have a lot more distractions,” she said.

For more than a decade, St. Joseph’s Academy has provided laptop computers as part of tuition. Students use their computers in and out of class.

Until Tuesday, they have done so with a teacher in the room who closely monitored what students were doing, though they have had students and teachers work remotely on occasion.

The school has had the capability for years of doing remote education, but Principal Linda Harvison said she’s held off doing so on a “grand scale.”

She decided to give it a try during this storm, though, because, despite the cold, students were expected to have electricity, unlike they would during a hurricane.

While there were some technical glitches — at least one student was unable to get a good internet connection — Harvison pronounced the day a success.

English teacher Brianna Pettijohn ended up testing out an instructional Web tool called Blendspace.

“I honestly think that some of the lessons teachers prepared today may, in fact, be a bit more effective than those they would have planned for the classroom,” Pettijohn wrote.

One teacher created a special Facebook page. Another teacher created a Powerpoint demonstration showing ways to measure the density of household items such as corn syrup, rubbing alcohol and banana chips.

“I have been communicating with students since last night … while cooking vegetable soup and a pot roast! It’s been great!” reported science teacher Lori Harper.

St. Joseph’s Academy could have tried to mimic the normal schedule again Tuesday, but Harvison said she was worried that students and teachers would have time-consuming home issues to deal with such as caring for younger siblings or newborns.

Katie Foshee, mother of Elizabeth and Lauren, said school at home has its limits.

“I wouldn’t want it to be as rigid as it is at school where for 71/2 hours they are sitting and listening to lectures,” she said.

“It’s hard to do that from home.”

Emily Lasseigne, the girls’ half-sister, watched her siblings as they worked Tuesday. Emily is a 2011 graduate of St. Joseph’s Academy and is taking classes, some online, at Our Lady of the Lake College in Baton Rouge. She said learning how to manage your time online is good practice for what’s ahead.

Still, she’s glad St. Joseph’s didn’t attempt schoolwide virtual schooling when she was still there and the weather got icy.

“They could have,” she said. “Thank God, we didn’t have to give up our snow day.”