Iberville turning to theme-based programs for schools

The Iberville Parish school system will begin this fall its gradual shift toward implementing schools of choice for its students with the launch of its first theme-based program at Crescent Elementary.

The new program, called the Atchafalaya Basin Academy, will infuse the parish’s Cajun-rich heritage with the state’s Common Core educational standards, according to School Superintendent Ed Cancienne.

He said the program seeks to enhance learning for the parish’s kindergarten through sixth-graders through arts and humanities focused projects and field trips.

“This program will allow students to explore the many aspects of the unique culture and way of life in the Atchafalaya region through infusing the daily curriculum with a common theme,” Cancienne said in a prepared statement Friday. “Students will discover how their cultural heritage has been shaped through the historical theme of the Atchafalaya — a theme that is the foundation for these student’s daily way of life.”

The School Board approved implementation of the Atchafalaya Basin Academy program and a new virtual learning academy at North Iberville Elementary School on April 8.

The Atchafalaya academy will be open to any student living in Iberville Parish, with acceptance based on an application and lottery selection process similar to that of the district’s two math, science and arts academies. Students who enroll will be required to maintain a 2.5 grade-point average and proficient scores on the state’s iLEAP and LEAP tests.

Students will be sent back to their “home” school if they do not meet the standards or if they receive three discipline referrals or one “major” disciplinary infraction, such as fighting on campus. Applications to the academy were mailed throughout the parish last week.

Brandie Blanchard, personnel and instructional coordinator for the school district, said Friday no deadline has been determined for submitting applications for the academy. However, she said, the lottery selection will be June 5.

The program’s initial enrollment will be built on the more than 350 students already attending Crescent Elementary because they live within the school’s attendance zones, Blanchard said.

“We will probably have to place a cap on the number of students we accept the first year, and that cap will depend on the interest in the program,” Blanchard said. “Our goal is to implement more schools of choice, all with different themes and focuses of instruction. We want to start with this program and see how it works.”

Blanchard said the district’s officials believe establishing a “schools of choice system” in the parish can offer unique educational opportunities for its students. “It will make education fun for them because they’ll actually get to learn about things they are actually interested in and identify with,” she said.

Crescent Elementary principal Allison Junot said elements of the academy’s culture-enriched curriculum are based on books like “Bayou Pigeon: Spirit of the Atchafalaya.”

“This is really about preserving that Cajun heritage,” Junot said. “When I was first approached about this, I thought it was perfect because there is such a pride in the culture here. “

Junot said the parish’s culture will be integrated into the school’s daily instruction through field trips, expert guest speakers and having the students work on themed projects each nine-week grading cycle.

Tom Sowders, the LSU doctoral student who authored the academy’s proposal to the school district, said the new curriculum builds on the concept of “project-based learning,” which allows students to access their creativity as they work toward meeting the new state standards for education.

“This is really an opportunity to let students get impassioned about learning — a way to ensure kids are really learning,” Sowders said.