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Students’ food and shelter among Lagniappe board concerns

With nearly all of its 130 students qualifying for the federally funded free and reduced price lunch program, Lagniappe Academies this year entered into a contract with Revolution Food to provide fresh foods and whole grains to a population of children that often go without.

The school’s board of directors on Wednesday met over fruit platters prepared by the company and heard about a presentation the food distributor made at the school in conjunction with its new program serving breakfast, lunch and supper to students.

Board member Dan Henderson told the group he was at the school on a day tamales were served and heard some students saying they had never seen a tamale.

“That’s true with most of the things we’ve served this year,” Chief Academic Officer Kindall Petri said, but added that students are asked to follow the three-bite rule — giving fruits and vegetables at least three bites before saying no. Most are eating it enthusiastically, she said.

Nutrition wasn’t the only student basic need on school officials’ minds Wednesday.

Petri told board members the administration is keeping an eye on what is happening to public housing around the school.

She said that as the Lafitte and Iberville housing developments have transitioned into the multi-income housing, many of Lagniappe students’ families are in flux.

Petri said that Lagniappe does not yet know whether the changes at Iberville will affect the school’s student make-up, but for the time being the families that remain in Iberville are being moved throughout the development as construction takes place.

So far, there has been no significant loss of students, as the Housing Authority of New Orleans’ goal is to do a 1-to-1 replacement of housing as close to the area as possible, said Ninh Tran, the school’s director of talent and operations.

As far as overall student retention, “the students we lose, we lose to relocation,” Petri said.
Students come from Covenant House, Iberville or Lafitte projects, she said.

“When their situations destabilize, often they’re moving in with a relative in Baton Rouge or Houston. It’s heartbreaking but there’s only so much we can do in that respect.” In those situations, a parent outreach coordinator works with the families to find access to stable housing.

For the next school year, Lagniappe projects 180 students, which includes the addition of 50 kindergarteners.

“That was one of the grade levels we opened with, so it’s one of the grade levels we have the most experience and expertise,” Petri said.

Lagniappe — which, unlike many other New Orleans charters, seeks to draw students from a defined zone — will recruit children from the surrounding Treme neighborhood to fill those spots, Petri said.

Lagniappe’s landlord, Lafitte Redevelopment Group, is open to a two-year extension on the school’s lease, Henderson said. The landlord is also offering parking space for 20 cars in front of the school in exchange for a parking lot of equal size that the school currently uses on Basin Street. The new lease would also include room for an additional modular unit if needed, Henderson said.

Putting together fundraising packages attractive to donors was discussed. Fundraising projects could include: paying for a teacher for the school’s popular Saturday school program utilizing a computer-based literacy program called Study Island; adding a security camera for the front of the building; or contributing toward school uniforms.

Petri said the school gives students free uniforms. “And often they are wearing the exact same uniform shirt in June that they started with in September,” she said.

Programs like Study Island are popular because most Lagniappe students “aren’t going home and checking their email on the computer so it’s for getting our kids 21st century literate,” Petri said.

Petri said Lagniappe needs volunteers to help with projects like a school store to teach entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Petri said the school plans to wheel a display case they’ve purchased into the cafeteria on Fridays and let the children run the store. The idea was inspired by the city-wide lemonade stand day, a big hit at the school. The school’s first athletic teams kicked off this year, girl’s flag football and boys’ basketball with boys’ flag football in the works in late January.

New board member Lee Pryor, a developer for the National World War II Museum, offered to ask a recruiting manager for docents for advice on enlisting volunteers. Adding new board members was also discussed. Board members Joseph Kimbrell and Emily Gourdy were also in attendance at the one hour meeting. Raymond Smart and Frank Williams participated via teleconference.

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