WATSON -- A crowd of fifth - and sixth-graders filled nearly all the bleachers inside of Live Oak Middle School’s gymnasium when a voice came through vice principal Rhonda Blount’s walkie-talkie.

“We still have two more bus loads,” the voice said.

“Two more?” Blount responded as she quickly scanned the already-packed gym, hoping to find more seats. “Well, let’s get them in.”

Students got off the last two buses and hastily walked in the gym, where teachers pointed fifth-graders to one side and sixth-graders to the other before principal Ryan Hodges addressed them all.

Pretty soon, more than 700 students packed the bleachers on opposite sides of the basketball court. For the vast majority, it was the first time they had ever set foot in the gym — or on the 33-year-old campus.

Wednesday, Aug. 9, signaled the start of a “new day” at Live Oak Middle School (LOMS), which will now teach fifth - and sixth-graders after housing grades six through eight since it was established in 1984.

“Old school but a whole new world,” said Gwen Hall, a sixth-grade teacher who’s entering her 12th year at LOMS and 25th year in Livingston Parish. “But it’s exciting to finally get started.”

The restructuring at LOMS came as a result of the opening of the new Live Oak Junior High, which now occupies the old Live Oak High School off Old Highway 16 that was dormant for more than two years before recently undergoing renovations.

It was a project meant to curb overcrowding in the Live Oak community, where three elementary schools — North Live Oak Elementary, South Live Oak Elementary and Live Oak Elementary — also reshuffled their campuses.

Those three schools all dropped fifth grade and will only house students from Pre-K to fourth grade, sending 706 students to the end of Cecil Drive to attend Live Oak Middle. Since the students who sat in the LOMS gym were in fourth or fifth grade last year, Wednesday was their first time on campus.

For Hodges, who’s been principal at LOMS for six years, it feels like a “brand-new school.”

“We have a brand new faculty, and not one kid that will be on campus has ever stepped foot here before,” Hodges said. “It’s brand new curriculum, brand new teachers and brand new kids — so it’s like a brand new school starting up.”

A dozen of Hodge’s 40-plus teachers from last year remained at LOMS after the reshuffle, with an additional 20 or so coming from the downsized Live Oak, North Live Oak and South Live Oak elementary schools.

The school is down about 400 students from its normal enrollment, but that was expected given the reconstruction that dropped LOMS to two grades, Hodges said. Still, there are about 20 students per teacher.

Students at Live Oak Middle will have six periods per day as opposed to seven in the past, but they’ll rotate every other day between physical education and computer literacy, giving them a full seven-class schedule.

Sitting in his office before the first day, Hodges was eager to get started.

“It’s just like it was when you were a kid,” Hodges said. “The first day of school is always fun. You get excited and even a little bit nervous, but it’s a new year and a fresh start for this entire campus and the people on it.”

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