New AMIKids program helping students focus

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Instructor Jeff Sawyer works with students, from left, Tyrese Thompson, Andrionna Boudreaux and Peter Felix Tuesday morning. The students are in the new AMIKids program at N.P. Moss Preparatory Academy in Lafayette.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Instructor Jeff Sawyer works with students, from left, Tyrese Thompson, Andrionna Boudreaux and Peter Felix Tuesday morning. The students are in the new AMIKids program at N.P. Moss Preparatory Academy in Lafayette.

Peter Felix said “bad choices” and “being a class clown” led to his being transferred from Acadiana High School to a specialized program that helps students improve their behavior and academics.

Felix, 17, is one of 29 students in AMIKids on the campus of N.P. Moss Preparatory Academy — the Lafayette Parish School System’s site for alternative education programs.

In February, the school system contracted with AMIKids, a Florida-based nonprofit that provides an academic and behavioral intervention program to address the needs of the district’s troubled students.

The Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office and Lafayette Consolidated Government share the cost of the $184,000 contract with the school system to operate the program from February through May.

About 200 students attend the Moss Academy’s “Prep” program for students who have been removed from their schools for disciplinary issues.

Based on their needs, AMIKids program can take a maximum of 30 students at one time. Once students complete the AMIKids program, they must successfully fulfill the requirements of Moss’ “Prep” program before they are allowed to return to their home school.

While the program’s mission statement cites a dedication to helping “troubled youth,” “troubled” isn’t an accurate description for AMI students, Joe Williams, the AMIKids Lafayette operations director, told School Board members during an April 3 meeting.

“They’re lost and need to be found,” Williams said.

On a visit to the campus Tuesday, Felix described himself “as a good person. I just made a mistake.”

His classmates see themselves differently, too.

“I’m a person who came from making bad choices to doing good,” Tyrese Thompson said Tuesday.

Fifteen-year-old Damal Duhon described himself “as a person trying to change.”

Felix, a 10th-grader, and Thompson, 14, a seventh-grader who attended Lafayette Middle School, have been in the AMI program for two months. Duhon, a freshman who attended Lafayette High, began the AMI program last month.

The three teens also attended the April 3 board meeting to share their experiences in the program

During the meeting, Duhon thanked Moss Preparatory administrators and staff “for not giving up on me.”

“My main problem in school was keeping the streets and school separated. AMI has helped me with that problem a lot,” Duhon told board members. “My main goal in life is to finish high school and go on to college and be a taxidermist.”

As of Tuesday, 29 students were in the AMI program, said Jamile Emile, executive director of the Lafayette program. Emile, Williams and Jeff Sawyer, AMI’s academic coordinator, staff the program. Emile said a licensed counselor also will join the program.

Students begin the day focused on a discussion of values such as leadership, family, integrity and responsibility before splitting into two smaller groups for academic courses.

The program’s success is rooted in focusing on three components that make up a “complete student”: behavior modification, treatment and education, Emile said. Each student in the program has a personal growth plan that targets the student’s individual needs related to the three components.

“The goal is to get the kid back in their school,” Emile said.

Students advance in the program based on their performance in their personal growth plan, which is tracked daily on a card. Students are rewarded for positive behavior and steps made toward their goals.

Students said Tuesday that the smaller class sizes make it easier to focus on their studies.

“If you don’t understand it, they’re going to break it down for you,” Duhon said.

In a larger class, like in their home schools, it was easy to get distracted, he said.

“AMI teaches you not to do that,” Duhon said.

“And how to be respectful,” Thompson said.

The three teens have the same goal: graduation.

Because the program started in February, Emile said, the staff is working out logistics for how soon a student may exit the program and enroll in Moss Preparatory to begin their journey back to the traditional classroom.

Emile said students who end the school year at AMI will begin the school year in the AMI program “to get them acclimated” before they’re eligible to transition into Moss Preparatory. Some students at Moss Preparatory who are eligible to return to their home school may make the decision to remain in the “Prep” program, school officials have said.

Emile said Felix, Duhon and another student will likely be the first AMI students to test out the transition to Moss Preparatory in the next few weeks.

When asked if they were ready to exit the AMI program, Felix said, “We’ve got to be ready all the time.”