That beautiful school building at 815 Huey P. Long Avenue in downtown Gretna, dates back to circa 1940 when it was built to house Gretna Elementary No. 1. The school building was later named for the Gretna native and beloved former educator, Lily White Ruppel.
Many locals have fond memories of the late longtime Principal Robert Burns and the late Aletha Covell who taught hundreds of Gretna’s 1st graders in her 40 year tenure at the school.
But it isn’t spelling bees or science fairs or curriculum that you hear about when you ask former students about their memories. Its friends and tidbits of fun that seem most remembered from their grammar school days. Gretna No. 1 alumni Merlin Schexnayder, however, did say, “I do remember science movies in Mrs. Fink’s class.”
Schexnayder remembers shooting marbles and playing ball with the boys in the schoolyard while the girls “did their own thing.” He remembers good things, like “Penny Parties where there was fudge and muffins sold at recess” and bad things, like “getting vaccinations that really hurt from a nurse at school.”
He remembers singing Christmas carols from a songbook which put him on the same trail of memories as his classmate, Bobby Covell Adams who said, “I remember marching into the auditorium during the holidays while singing Christmas carols.”
Adams also has other memories unrelated to academics, mostly about friends from back in the day. “I still have close friendships today with classmates from those days.
She reminisced, “The taffy man selling “Roman Candy” would sometimes come in his horse drawn cart to the corner of 9th Street and Huey P. Long at recess time. He would make his taffy and pass the fresh made candy wrapped in waxed paper through the chain link fence to sell to us.
“I also remember our long lunch hour when we often went to buy luncheon meat sandwiches that sold for 12 cents at Romano’s Grocery located on the corner of 8th and Huey P. Long, today, the side yard of Geri Mayville’s residence.”
Another memory of both Schexnayder and Adams is the group of crossing guards on the Huey P. Long Avenue corners that were sponsored by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Frank Clancy.
Today the beautifully updated school building is the home of Ruppel Academie Francaise, a specialty school in Jefferson Parish requiring admission for acceptance and offering French as a second language as well as an advanced curriculum.
In the 2009-2010 school year, Ruppel Academy for Advanced Studies opened to 6th through 8th graders. Ruppel consistently earned status as an “A” school by the Louisiana Department of Education throughout 2018.
“In the summer of 2019, the Jefferson Parish School System began to transition Ruppel from an advanced academy to a French Academy. In 2019-2020 school year, Ruppel enrolled the original 6th through 8th graders and added PK through 3rd grade students for the French language program,” Emily Miller, who has served as principal since 2015 said.
“In 2020-2021 school year Ruppel said good-bye to the original middle school students as they transferred to Thomas Jefferson Academy for Advanced Studies serving students in grades 6th through 12th.”
Ruppel Academie Francaise currently has students in PK through 4th grades and will be expanding to PK4 through 5th grade for the 2021-22 school year. There will be a grade level added each year until eventually enrolling students from PK through 8th grades.
“At Ruppel Academie Francaise, students take French as a second language daily, but we are not a French immersion program. The goal of the French program is that students will test out of high school French I and French II by the time they finish 8th grade. In addition to offering French, Ruppel offers an advanced curriculum,” Miller said.
“We’ve learned a lot about distance learning this year with many of our students electing to attend virtually instead of on campus. We have a one-to-one computer ratio, so all students have access to a device. The faculty and staff has made significant strides in their use of Google Classroom for live virtual instruction that happens in real-time with on-campus classmates. As a faculty, we devoted many days in the summer to enhance our knowledge and expertise in instructional technology.
“It’s been a quiet school year overall because of Covid limitations. We’ve just been so busy this year that there is not much time to think of anything other than Covid and learning.
“Congratulations go out to our Teacher of the Year, Sheila Robichaux who teaches 3rd and 4th grade math and our Support Employee of the Year, Cynthia Stewart, PK4 paraprofessional.
“In the fall during Ruppel Spirit Week, we talked about anti-Bullying awareness with the theme “”Kindness is Contagious.” We did many fun events including a classroom poster contest.
“In October we held a Covid-friendly costume parade with PK students and in February we held a similar parade with kindergarteners showing off their shoe-box floats.
“As we do annually in November, we conducted a successful food drive for the Gretna Food Bank.
“But, we have good news that something is returning to normal! The City of Gretna will hold a Maypole dance event at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 14, outdoors on the Huey P. Long Avenue neutral ground between 6th and 7th Streets. It is the kick-off for the German-American Cultural Center’s Maifest. As per tradition, Mayor Constant again invited some students from Ruppel to participate in the Maypole dance,” Miller said.
The traditional free-to-the-public Maifest Beer Garden will be held on Saturday, May 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the center’s parking lot along 5th Street. There will be traditional Bavarian Music, food will be offered for sale like sofa pretzels, sauerkraut, brats and a variety of drinks. All Louisiana Phase 3 Covid requirements will be followed.