NATCHITOCHES, La. (KSLA) - As school districts across the ArkLaTex grapple with how to best educate students safely this fall, the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts (LSMSA) recently announced its impending fall semester will be totally online due to the coronavirus.
“It’s depressing,” said Dr. Steve Horton, the executive director of LSMSA. “It bums me out, it bums out the 125 people who work here.”
Also known as the Louisiana School, this selective, academically rigorous, public institution is located on Northwestern State University’s campus in Natchitoches. The school’s 360 students, who range in age from high school sophomores to seniors, hail from all across Louisiana.
“It’s residential, we live and learn together,” explained Horton. “It’s a college level curriculum on a college level schedule, they don’t get to go home at 3 o’clock.”
The combination of close quarters living, a lack of control over how seriously students take social distancing and wearing a mask, as well as the very serious nature of the coronavirus, made the decision to go virtual feel personal for Horton.
“I’m a parent,” explained Horton. “The idea of letting my child go to a great facility, even with all of the guidelines in place...what if they get it?”
Though the idea of teaching hundreds of students statewide seems daunting, Horton said the ultimate decision to take his institution digital really wasn’t much of a predicament at all.
“The faculty embraced it easily knowing they could offer a similar learning experience, those students walk away as prepared as they would have been if they were here with us,” Horton explained. “The faculty is growing, the staff is growing, I’m growing...you wake up and realize times are changing.”
Horton added he believes parents applauded his administration’s move to lock-in virtual learning sooner, rather than later.
“I think most of our families, if not the majority, realize what we’re facing,” said Horton. “It’s something we knew we had to do.”
Despite the uncertainty of the virus’ spread in the coming months in Louisiana, Horton remains optimistic, confident and thrilled to welcome his high-achieving students back to campus.
“We’re coming back, there’s no question. We’re coming back stronger,” said Horton.
Horton said he plans to have students, faculty and staff return to LSMSA full-time at the beginning of the 2021 semester.