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Emotional last day

N.P. Moss students recall memories as summer begins
May 26, 2011

The cheers of restless students beginning summer vacation could be heard down the long corridor. The high-pitched roar was magnified as teenagers coursed from classroom to hallway, taking the year's final trek to the waiting buses.

The flood of students followed the confining walls of the mezzanine as the afternoon sun painted the N.P. Moss Middle School courtyard to the right, streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows. To the left a custodian moved equipment and furniture into classrooms that were no longer theirs.

As the torrent turned the corner, Assistant Principal Jeff Debatez stood smiling with his arm outstretched.

"One last dap," he said to passing students, who bumped their knuckles with Debatez's expectant fist.

The students, clutching awards they had received that morning, cut through the cafetorium, then through the small lobby leading to the bus line.

Teachers watched them board waiting buses. A petite social studies teacher, Melaine Harrington, embraced a depressed-looking student nearly twice her size. Tears brimmed her eyes as the student walked away and she shouted words of encouragement.

"It's bittersweet for me," Harrington said later. "I just hope they don't fall through the cracks."

As the last stragglers ran to their buses, two girls boarded, their white, uniform polo shirts covered with signatures of peers with whom they may never share a class again.

Last day, ever
Lafayette Parish public school students ended the school year Wednesday. That traditionally bittersweet moment was especially poignant for the 300 Moss students.

The school ceased to exist as a middle school. It will reopen as the sixth- to 12th-grade David Thiobdaux Career and Technical High School this fall.

Fewer than 30 current Moss students will return to 805 Teurlings Drive next year and enroll in Thibodaux Tech's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, Academy. The rest will be dispersed among other middle and high schools.

Gracious Watson's seventh-grade son will spend his final middle school year at Acadian Middle School.

"I'm hurt," Watson said. "I would love for him to come here next year."

Neil Bob's eighth-grade daughter will attend Northside High School next year, and become the last class of "Vikings for life." Her elementary school, J.W. Faulk, Moss and Northside share the common mascot.

"Her seventh-grade friends have to find other schools to go to," Bob said. "I wish more parents would have gone to the meetings to keep the school open."

Moss has been considered academically unacceptable by state standards for three years. Instead of risking a fourth failing year and the possibility of state takeover, the Lafayette Parish School Board in November decided to close Moss and convert it into Thibodaux Tech.

Ending on a high note
The final day of Moss began with an awards ceremony. Students who scored mastery and advanced on state standardized tests were among those honored.

"I was surprised by that," Bob said of the high achievers. "That means the teachers are doing their jobs."

Although Moss' test scores improved this year, it was not be enough to save the school, Superintendent Burnell Lemoine said Tuesday.

Nonetheless, teachers and students celebrated their accomplishments.

"Every single student has a special place in our hearts," teacher Leah Gerami said during the award ceremony. "I want to give you all a round of applause for doing what you have done all year long."

After the awards, students were treated to a day of fun jumps, pizza, ice cream and free time.

"It was the best day ever!" eighth-grader Brianna Duhon said, beaming next to her friend, eighth-grader Ava Hill-Muhammad. Both will attend the Early College Academy next year.

The two had mixed feelings about Thibodaux Tech.

"I think it will be good," Ava, 13, said. "I think they need more structure here."

But both Ava and Brianna said they learned a lot this year.

"All the teachers are all very good teachers," Brianna, 14, said.

Another, 14, had stronger feelings about turning Moss into Thibodaux Tech.

"I don't think they should have closed the school down," he said. "They can't blame teachers because some kids didn't want to learn. Now everybody's going to get split up."

Along with students, school staff will be displaced and sent to openings around the district.

Outgoing Principal Ken Douet signed a standard two-year contract last summer and became a displaced principal when the school day ended.

"I still have a year left, but I don't know where I'm going yet, just like everyone else here," he said. "We're just waiting."

Thibodaux Tech
The Moss zone includes 875 middle-school students, even though about 300 students attended Moss this year.
The underutilized school can accommodate 1,000 students. As many as 550 sixth- to 10th-graders will walk the halls this fall, incoming Thibodaux Tech principal Debatez said.

Students from across the parish will be among the 300 STEM students next year, Debatez said. The STEM Academy and sophomore high school section have waiting lists, while more freshmen could be accepted.

"It's a good, diverse student population," Debatez said.

Teachers will get to work creating curricula that integrates Thibodaux Tech concentrations soon. During the summer Debatez will meet with every high school student to discuss graduation plans.

While he had two unpacking days penciled in on his calendar, the process will be ongoing. On Wednesday, some equipment already was being moved into classes and at least one classroom was being used to store new computers.

Debatez excitedly showed off STEM equipment in storage and spoke about a weekend workshop for which he hoped to receive a grant. The workshop would explore a specific topic, say rockets, and move attendees through stations that would teach core subjects — the math and science of rockets, the history of rockets and end with participants creating an English presentation about rockets.

"That will be for families," Debatez said.