Program to help school dropouts

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Dropout Recovery Adviser Doug Bonner, right, speaks at a press conference Wednesday at the school board office about a new partnership with the Lafayette Parish School System to lessen the dropout rate in the parish. At left are Lafayette Parish Schools Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau and Superintendent Pat Cooper.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Dropout Recovery Adviser Doug Bonner, right, speaks at a press conference Wednesday at the school board office about a new partnership with the Lafayette Parish School System to lessen the dropout rate in the parish. At left are Lafayette Parish Schools Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau and Superintendent Pat Cooper.

At least 2,000 Lafayette Parish School System high school dropouts between the ages of 15 and 21 now have a chance to earn their diploma on their own time with the support of tutors and an advocate, school officials said Wednesday.

The Lafayette Parish School System has joined with The American Academy’s NoDropouts program to launch an effort to help dropouts get their diplomas called the “WillGraduate” program.

“One thing we know is these kids want to succeed and they’re capable. They just need the right formula,” said Doug Bonner, NoDropouts’ dropout recovery adviser.

So far, the program has reached about 90 students interested in the program and some have already started classes, Bonner said.

Bonner and district Superintendent Pat Cooper asked for the community’s help in reaching more teens. The final day to enroll in the program is Feb. 1.

“Let’s make sure that there’s no one out in the community wandering around hopeless,” Cooper said.

The program complements the district’s turnaround plan, which focuses on preparing children for kindergarten and ensuring students succeed through their graduation with the motto: 100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out, he said.

Cooper called the program a “life branch” designed to help teens improve their future. He asked how many of the 2,000 identified as eligible for the program will end up in jail or on welfare assistance without a diploma.

The district has no upfront cost to get the program operational.

Cooper explained that the district will recapture state per pupil funding when students are enrolled by the “WillGraduate” program and those funds will be used to pay the company. The per student cost is capped at the Minimum Foundation Program allocation of $3,895, and payment is contingent upon students’ success in the program, officials have said.

As part of the program, the company provides educational and support services delivered on an Internet-ready laptop. Students also have access to tutors 24 hours a day, and their progress is monitored by a mentor.

Students in the program are also provided an advocate, who will work with the school district’s health and wellness office to link students and their families to needed help and community services, Bonner said.

The company has worked with other school districts in the region, including Evangeline and St. Martin parishes, operating in a total of 75 school districts in seven states, Bonner said.

The program in Lafayette is the company’s largest, he said.

To register or learn more about the Lafayette Parish “WillGraduate” program, visit: http://lafayetteparish.willgraduate.org or call (888) 615-6115.