Avoyelles Virtual Program Addresses Academic, Behavior Issues

Date: April 10, 2016

Written by Raymond L. Daye

Alternative school for expelled, long-term suspended students

It would seem self-defeating for a “disciplinary school” program to be so successful that its students beg to stay after they have “served their sentence” and been deemed able to return to their zoned school. But that is what has happened many times since the Avoyelles School Board contracted with the private Ombudsman company to operate the Avoyelles Virtual Alternative Program (AVAP) in the former Hessmer High elementary wing.

By all accounts, the program has been successful in taking middle and high school students who have been recommended for expulsion or long-term suspension and not only making sure they do not lose ground academically, but actually gain ground.

“These children have issues other than the reasons that got them sent there,” program director Tametria Guillory told the School Board’s Executive Committee March 22. “There are reasons why they decided to act out.”

The AVAP model not only addresses the academic needs of those students sent to it, but is also designed to modify the student’s behavior so that he or she — usually he — is not likely to commit an expulsion-earning act again.

Increase in students In its first year, the program served 124 students during the year. So far this year, the second of Ombudsman’s three-year contract, AVAP has had 174 students through its doors.

Guillory said that of 47 students who were returned to their schools early, only five have committed an offense that sent them back to AVAP.

She said that despite having a program with identified “problems,” there have only been two fights at the school this year — and one of those was only classified a fight because some minor contact occurred.

While students are assigned to AVAP for an 80-day program, students can earn “early release” after 30 to 45 days if they have made appropriate progress in their behavior and attitude.

The Ombudsman company’s contract calls for 60 students at any time — 30 in a morning session and 30 in an afternoon session. Morning students are taken to LaSAS for lunch and are then taken home by bus from there. The afternoon session students eat lunch at LaSAS and are then taken by bus to the AVAP center in Hessmer.

Guillory said parents have begged her to let their child stay at AVAP after they had successfully completed the program, either the full 80-day or been deemed eligible for return to the zoned school.

“They have told me that their child enjoys the school and is doing well for the first time ever,” she said. “I hate to tell them we just can’t keep them in the program. There are others who need it.”

The School Board contract with Ombudsman contains a provision for increasing the number of students served, with a per-student cost associated with anything over 60.

Work done online Most of the students’ academic work is done online, but under supervision of certified teachers.

Board member Mike Lacombe had asked for the update on the alternative program. He said some constituents had expressed concerns that the center was understaffed.

Guillory said the program is fully staffed with four teachers. She is a teacher as well as the program administrator.

Students are given more individual attention on academic assignments than they might receive in a standard classroom, but the reasons for their behavior problems are also given attention.

Board member James Gauthier, a retired math professor, volunteers as a teacher at the program. He lives near the old Hessmer campus.

“You would be amazed at how quiet it is when you walk through there,” Gauthier said.

AVAP is, for lack of a better term, a rehabilitation option for students facing expulsion. Students unable or unwilling to comply with the program’s requirements are put on a homebound virtual program to continue their classwork while finishing their expulsion or long-term suspension.

Categories: Alternative Education, News
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