By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator 

On Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings at 8:30 a.m., students ranging in grades from pre-K to 12, arrive at St. Anne Church in Sorrento to attend class. 

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Becky Wild, technology coordinator for Ascension Catholic School, assists students at St. Anne Church in Sorrento parish hall. The church has become a satellite location two days a week for students who live on the east bank of the Mississippi River. Pictured, from left, are Connor Shalley, Andrew Bright, Cody Waguespack and Hunter Walker. Photos by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator

 

For the younger students, that means worksheets and other activities appropriate for their grade level. For middle school and high school students, it means logging onto computers and streaming live from classrooms located on the west bank of the Mississippi River. 

These 35 students attend Ascension Catholic High School in Donaldsonville but when the Sunshine Bridge was shut down Oct. 12 after a barge slammed into a support beam, the commute for students and faculty on the east side of the river went from 15 minutes to an hour each way. 

“It’s more productive and I get more work done, rather than being distracted in a normal classroom,” said Hunter Walker, a senior who lives in Sorrento. “You have to be more independent but you can definitely catch up on a lot more work than at typical school.” 

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Casey Mays attends class through a computer at the Ascension Catholic School’s satellite location. The satellite location was set up after a barge accident shut down the Sunshine Bridge, forcing commuters to travel an hour each way to get to the school. 

 

Walker, who is also a member of the cross country and track teams, said he has to run on his own rather than with the team on the days he’s not commuting.

One week after the bridge was shut down, Ascension School principal Sandy Pizzolato designated a single bus stop in Sorrento for a 6:50 a.m. pickup to transport students to school via the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Gramercy. In the afternoons, riders load the bus 20 minutes earlier than normal in order to avoid traffic tie-ups and the drop-off is at the same Sorrento location. 

By the second week of the bridge closure, Pizzolato began to search for a satellite location to give families and faculty a break from the two-hour daily commute. That’s when St. Anne Church was approached for accommodations. 

“We’re just helping each other out,” said Father Keun-Soo Lee, pastor of St. Anne. 

“The parents and students have been so appreciative of our efforts to provide this service to them,” said Pizzolato. “One student expressed how happy he was that he didn’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays just to get to school on time for 8.”    

Pizzolato admits the challenge has been to make sure all of the materials are available from teachers at each grade level, a burden that has fallen on the teachers. 

“Without their support to pre-plan and make copies of materials for us to use at the satellite location, this would not be successful,” she said. 

Becky Wild, technology coordinator for Ascension Catholic School, is one of the satellite instructors and remains with the students to make sure they are able to access what they need from the classrooms. 

“It’s nice not having to drive an hour for work,” said Wild. “The students are happy to be here.” 

On Nov. 29, the Louisiana Department of Development and Transportation announced the bridge would reopen Dec. 1, with one lane flowing in each direction.