08/12/2014 09:09AM ● Published by Robert Frey
Numerous programs in the Acadiana area seek to improve students’ opportunities, scores and access to the best education and technology available. With the 2014-2015 school year about to begin, now is the time to look at Acadiana’s abounding educational opportunities. Here, Acadiana LifeStyle offers a bird’s eye view of specialized programs available to local students and provides detailed explanations of educational models.
LAFAYETTE PARISH SCHOOL SYSTEM
Turnaround Plan 100% In. 100% Out.
In 2012, Lafayette Public School System Superintendent, Dr. Pat Cooper, announced the Parish’s decision to improve upon the public school system’s existing model. LPSS’ website, lpssonline.com, introduces the plan as, “Dr. Pat Cooper, Superintendent, introduced a plan to take the Lafayette Parish School System from a ‘C’ district under state categories to an ‘A’ district– in six years. This plan is the result of weeks of work by district staff and faculty, parents, community members, post-secondary staff and faculty, and state education officials.” Since Dr. Cooper introduced the Turnaround Plan in 2012, Lafayette has gone from a ‘C’ district to a ‘B’ district.
Schools of Choice
As an additional step in Lafayette Parish’s movement toward a more pedagogically diverse public school district, LPSS has distinguished certain elementary, middle and high schools as “academies” for students’ special interests including everything from business to language immersion. The purpose is to enhance students’ educational experiences and improve ethnic diversity.
According to LPSS, “These schools offer specialized programs or themes that give students the core curriculum required by state guidelines in the context of a subject in which the student has an interest. All students in the parish are eligible to apply for admission to any School of Choice, although they must complete the application process.”
Lafayette’s Schools of Choice
• Pre-K Arts and Technology
• J. Wallace James Arts Elementary
• Arts Academy at LJ Alleman Middle
• Performing Arts Academy at Lafayette High
• Academy of Visual & Applied Arts at Comeaux High
Health and Biomedical
• Biomedical Academy at Carencro Middle
• David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy
• Academy of Health Careers at Lafayette High
• L. Leo Judice Environmental Sciences Elementary
• Environmental Sciences Academy at Lafayette Middle
• David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy
• Academy of Information Technology at Carencro High
World Language Immersion
• Pre-K French and Spanish Immersion
• World Languages Academy at Alice Boucher Elementary
• French Immersion
• Academy of Legal Studies at Northside High
• Academy of Business at Acadiana High
• Early College Academy
Lafayette Charter Academies
Willow Charter Academy is one of three charter schools that will open its doors in Lafayette Parish this fall. The Michigan Charter Management Company and National Heritage Academies will manage Willow Charter, and the school’s board will be the Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies.
Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy in the Couret Farms neighborhood of Pont des Moutons Road and Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy near Sugar Mill Pond in Youngsville will fall under Charter Schools USA’s jurisdiction, and with the Lafayette Charter Foundation acting as school board.
Last year, the Lafayette Parish School Board rejected charter applications submitted from the organizers of Willow Charter and the Renaissance Charter schools. Afterward, the three schools applied for authorization from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. With support and approval from the BESE, the three charter academies are now open to applications for the 2014-2015 school year.
Montessori: Early Childhood Education
The Montessori-themed programs at Truman, L. Leo Judice Montessori Elementary School and Ashton Grace Montessori use a model that has been successful around the world for 80 years. The program offers a well-rounded educational opportunity based on the belief that it is in the child’s nature to love learning and to be self-motivated.
In these Montessori-themed programs, you will find children grouped together who teach, collaborate and help each other with the learning process. The teacher prepares the environment, offers activities, functions as a reference person and model and observes the child constantly in order to help the process of “learning how to learn.” But it is the child who learns, motivated through the work itself, to persist in a chosen task.
Truman Early Childhood Education Center’s website states: “One of the main reasons some students lag behind others in learning and academic achievement is the difference in each student’s early childhood experiences. The Lafayette Parish School System’s Early Childhood Programs provide students with academic, cultural and artistic experiences that prepare them for the learning environment in kindergarten and beyond.”
“Through the Montessori-themed program at Truman Montessori and the Pre-K programs at several other schools,” the site continues, “children learn self-discipline and how to interact with others, develop language and personal skills, become familiar with math concepts and participate in hands-on activities. The years between 3 and 6 are not only the prime time for laying an academic foundation, but most importantly the years when a child learns the ground rules of human behavior most easily. These are the years to help a child in preparing to take his/her place in society through the acquisition of good habits and manners.”
IBERIA PARISH SCHOOL BOARD
Iberia Parish School Board Superintendent Dale Henderson is focusing on giving Iberia Parish students the best opportunities and the latest technology. He said, “We want all our schools to be on the cutting edge of 21st century technology…Everybody gets to come to our schools– and they each deserve the best opportunity.”
Daspit/North Lewis Elementaries are host to New Iberia’s own French Immersion program. Students K-6 take the majority of their classes in French, learning from Louisiana natives and Francophones from around the world.
Erath High School received its third “A” rating in 2013, making the school one of the most successful in Vermilion Parish.
ST. MARTIN PARISH
St. Martin houses a French immersion program in Cecilia area schools. The immersion setting begins at Cecilia Primary in Kindergarten and continues through grade 8, with French immersion teachers from Louisiana and abroad. St. Martin Parish Foreign Language Teachers include Americans as well as many Foreign Associate Teachers recruited by the Louisiana Department of Education Division of Student Standards, Assessments, & Accountability staff in cooperation with the Council of Development of French in Louisiana (popularly known as CODOFIL) and foreign governments. Those teachers are certified in their countries of origin and are granted BESE-approved interim certification while working in Louisiana.
ST. MARY PARISH
Lafayette is not the first parish in Acadiana to open its doors to the charter system. V.B. Glencoe Charter School educates over 350 students, K-8. The National Education Association defines charter schools as “publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school’s charter.” V.B. Glencoe’s principal, Michael T. Parrie discussed the school’s beginnings and successes with us.
“The parish was closing the original Glencoe Elementary,” he explains, “and the parents decided that wasn’t a good thing. The parents got a charter in 1990. Since then, our performance scores are better than pretty much all of the schools in the area. The parent involvement has stayed about the same throughout. They’re always welcome. They can volunteer and watch their children in class. They’re not considered the enemy, they’re part of the system.”
In terms of academics, the curriculum looks familiar, but with a focus on the arts and physical education. “We teach all of the basics,” says Parrie. “The elementary has full-blown art and physical education programs with specific teachers. Middle schoolers have PE every day with a PE teacher. We believe in keeping kids moving, being educated in the mind and physically engaged.”
V.B. Glencoe’s administration and parents take pride in the school’s ability to meet students’ individual needs. “One campus is K–3 and then 4–8. We keep the kids separated in terms of differences in size and needs,” Parrie explains. “Discipline procedures are followed from the state perspective. As a small district we can actually meet the needs of our children as we see them occur. We can do testing and see where we’re failing or doing well and then act. Flexibility is the key.”
Interesting Educational Models in Private Schools
Lafayette’s Episcopal School of Acadiana and Epiphany Day School in New Iberia are based on established, well-designed educational models. Here, ESA’s Lower School Head Anne Johnson and EPS’ Headmistress Kathleen O’Shaugnessy provide first-person explanations of the models fueling their respective schools’ successes.
Schoolwide Enrichment Model: Episcopal School of Acadiana
ESA opened a 6-12 middle and upper school in 1979. In 2004, ESA expanded its reach with a K-5 campus in Lafayette. Lower School Head, Anne Johnson, explains the vision and model for ESA lower’s pedagogy:
“ESA did a lot of searching for a model that would match things that were already occurring on the middle/upper school campus. The things that are most visible to me,” she says, “are groups of students actually engaged in the real world. It’s a school that not only teaches children, but also expects them to do something with their knowledge. You’re not a passive participant in the process, and you’re really expected to engage your community.
“ESA from the beginning was very different in their take on knowledge. Children are expected to gain knowledge, but then do something with it, beyond giving it back to the teacher. It creates a high level of independence, it creates a greater level of engagement with the community you live in, and even the greater community of the nation and the world as you begin to look at things as a problem solver.”
Uniqueness Of The SEM Model
The SEM Model, designed at the University of Connecticut by Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis, is so called for its encouragement of life-long learning, talent and interest development and creative problem solving not just in students, but also on the part of faculty members and parents as well. “The thing that made this model unique was the notion of learning being a creative, productive endeavor,” Johnson explains. “The model itself looks at learning through the lens of talents and interest. It was designed under the umbrella of gifted education pedagogy, which is really a good pedagogy for all children.”
Johnson continues, “The model itself is not meant to be restricted just to gifted children. The reason you want to see a child in an area of interest or talent is, often, that’s the spot where you’re really going to be able to gauge potential. When you put them inside of something they love and they’re working hard at it, you get a good sense of what they’re capable of doing. The good news is then that the teacher sees the child’s potential, but the bad news for the child is that the teacher then pushes them to transfer that potential to other areas of learning to see what they can do,” she laughs. “We’ve used that model in the way we treat our faculty and in the way we interact with our PFG. We search actively for talent and interest in the faculty members and parents so they capitalize on what they love as they give back to the school.”
SEM: Systematic Excellence
Johnson says, “Sometimes teachers only see a child through limitation, and they should really see the student from a lens of possibility. The SEM model is an administrator’s model. It doesn’t speak directly to how you should teach in a classroom. It does address systematic opportunity for every child in the school and consistent opportunity. For a school system to be excellent, you need systematic excellence.
“Running through the SEM model is the notion that not all children need to be housed together at the same age because some children are just that talented that they need to be with older children to learn, so we do practice acceleration. We also do whole grade acceleration. We’re very thoughtful in how we gather data. Those children that accelerate will usually accelerate whole grade more than once and they’re often early admissions college candidates. These children are incredibly bright; this is a good fit for only about 2 percent of the nation. The notion is, what is their best fit? How do you give them a world where the challenge continues and they’re still enthralled with learning and they’re always learning something new? How do you keep a hand on social and emotional development? You always want a good counselor on staff so they have a partner for the journey. We find that they do extremely well.”
Johnson explains, “Enrichment clusters are groupings of students across age groups. For instance, we’ll group K-2 and 3-5. We break into small groups and explore areas of interest that we might not find inside of a school. We’re giving them an opportunity to light up, and they do. Enrichment clusters are a period of about six to eight sessions, for about an hour and fifteen minutes, and the student drives what we’re doing. It’s rigorous, not just fluff.” Students in Johnson’s Business cluster, for example, can tell you the difference between an NGO and a for-profit company. The cluster has also come up with a product idea and collaborated with fellow students in an Advertising/Marketing cluster to sell said product.
What makes the cluster so different from regular classroom learning? “It’s the way that children who don’t normally come to the forefront of a classroom just light up,” Johnson says. “To have this kind of a model, wow, you have to have a special kind of teacher with a lot of motivation and a lot of training. You can’t be what you don’t want your children to be; you have to aspire to be the best, to give them the model of what they want to be. You watch those bright teachers and vibrant personalities as a student and you want them to be proud of you. Many of us (teachers and administrators) come from other careers into education. You need people who really have a special kind of energy. The happiest teachers and the most vibrant teachers are creators. I think that’s what this environment does. A lot of that has to do with transferring this model of thinking over into the adult community and the greater community of parents.”
Find The Model That Fits
Johnson’s take-home message is one of striving to find an educational model that fits your child. “Education is not a one size-fits all thing,” she says. “Schools have to be different because children are different and have different needs. Our school needs a clear identity because we’re not designed to serve the same students and same families as every school, that’s the beauty. There are open zones here where you’re called upon to create. Some children love that and others really resist it and need that traditional school structure.”
LA A+ Schools:
Epiphany Day School
Louisiana A+ Schools provided a platform for EDS to be an arts-integrated school instead of just an enrichment/enhancement program. EDS Headmistress Kathleen O’Shaugnessy explains the school’s journey to arts integration, which began with EDS’ acceptance into the program in March of 2013.
“A+ is comforting when they speak of your development as an A+ school, they make it clear that you won’t get there in a single year. When I got here last year, before I even heard of Louisiana A+ School, a lot of the methodology they propose were things I was trying on my own to introduce teachers here to. I didn’t have a cohesive package of professional learning to present to the teachers, though, so it was a real boon that LA+ landed in my inbox one day.”
The Methodology Of LA+
Explaining the methodology of LA+, O’Shuagnessy says, “They cover eight essentials. It’s not a curriculum. It’s important to understand that they’re not telling us what to teach. It’s about methodology, how we teach what we choose to teach. The eight essentials and those are strategies that classroom teachers use to create really wonderful classrooms. The landmark of LA+ is arts integration. Arts integration uses arts to engage kids, or to tie their learning to the real world so they are more likely to remember it. An arts integrated lesson is one in which kids are learning math concepts, but also one in which they are learning some standards from one of the various arts.
“What LA+ brought to us was all the things I was interested in tied in a nice bow. The arts integration has been both the scariest piece for most teachers but also the one that people have been willing to try because it’s fun. We have an art teacher on staff who is more than happy to collaborate with teachers. She taught students about parallel lines, complimentary colors and the work of French artist Mondrian.
“Then in social studies, the kids were given a state and had to create a brochure that included an outline drawing of their map. The students had to apply those concepts of design that they had learned in art to their state map, making a Mondrian-esque drawing.
“In terms of the first year, differentiation is one of the essential we’ve really worked on. Differentiation is recognizing that learning is not a one size fits all operation; there will always be kids that catch onto concepts immediately and kids who have a gap in their background knowledge. The teacher needs to be able to reach both of those students where they are and not just hold the curriculum up like a yardstick.
“Assessment has also been important. We do informal, ungraded assessment throughout the learning process so you can interrupt a misunderstanding before it becomes ensconced. Lastly, experiential hands-on learning is very important to arts integration. No one sits down for more than ten or 15 minutes. It’s all about getting kids moving, touching, smelling and feeling.
“Kids are as uncomfortable with changes as everyone else. Our kids tended to like to know that there was one right answer to every question and were uncomfortable with the teacher responding to their question with ‘I don’t know, what do you think? I don’t know, let’s find out.’ But that’s how you get kids engaged and not just being passive learners. It’s about figuring it out. The kids laugh and smile a lot more than I used to see,” O’Shuagnessy says.
Action, Knowledge And Learning
“The take away is that kids see knowledge as something that they create within themselves, rather than something that they sit and just passively receive. I’m hoping that we’ve planted the seed that they have within their own minds– the interest and the motivation to question that knowledge that’s being transmitted, or to wonder what it’s connected to or how it works in the world. That sense of play translates into a sense of intellectual risk taking,” explains O’Shuagnessy.