AMIKids program proposed

A nationally recognized program that helps troubled students get back on track could be launched in Lafayette Parish as early as mid-January, pending the School Board’s approval.

At its meeting on Wednesday, the board will consider an administration proposal to contract with AMIKids for educational and behavior intervention services. The Florida not-for-profit organization has more than 50 programs operating across the country, including ones in Lake Charles, Branch, Baton Rouge, Harvey and Bossier City.

Keeping students in the classroom is a goal of the district’s turnaround plan, which Superintendent Pat Cooper calls: “100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out.”

Currently, students who repeatedly disobey school rules may be sent to a new discipline program at Moss Preparatory, but a small number of students aren’t performing well there either, Cooper said.

“We’re trying mightily to keep from expelling anybody,” Cooper said.

Through the partnership with AMIKids, “going home” won’t be an option for troubled students, Cooper said.

Fewer than a dozen students who had not been successful at Moss Prep are receiving educational services at home, Cooper said.

The new program in Lafayette would be a day program housed in portable buildings on the Moss Prep site, Sherri Ulleg, director of communications for AMIKids, said in an email response.

She said the program targets students identified as “posing significant safety risks in school and/or in need of intensive services to support long-term school success.” She said the program is designed to address students’ academic and “extreme behavioral” needs.

The program features a small staff-to-student ratio, with staff that includes certified teachers, a “behavior interventionist” and a mental health professional, Ulleg said.

Parents are also part of the program, and staff meets regularly with students’ primary caregivers, she said.

“The goal is to provide parents with tools that can help reinforce student learning at home and the behaviors necessary to succeed in school and in the community,” Ulleg said.

Cooper said the program could serve up to 30 students initially, but he doesn’t expect it to reach capacity.

The annual cost of the program is estimated at $368,000, but for the program to start mid-January and continue through the end of May, the cost is estimated at $184,000, according to information given to the School Board.

The program’s cost could be shared through a partnership agreement among the school system, city-parish government and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The three entities are in discussions to work out the details, Cooper said.

City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux said the issues the school system faces with troubled students is a “community problem.” Boudreaux works for the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office juvenile services program.

“The issue is important enough and significant enough that we need to come up with some solutions,” he said.

The program also impacts the judiciary system and other organizations, Boudreaux said. He said he would like to see them become involved in discussions about funding and in-kind contributions.

Sheriff Mike Neustrom said the AMIKids program offers services the community needs. He said the Sheriff’s Office has invested in programs for adult offenders, including diversion programs, and is building a new complex on Willow Street.

It also provides school-based therapy services to families within the school system, he added.

“As time goes on, the community has to start thinking more than about just incarceration,” Neustrom said.

Neustrom, who serves on the board of AMIKids’ residential program in Branch, said resources need to be invested to prevent children from ending up in the adult system.

Juvenile judges may also require teens to attend the AMIKids program or Moss Prep as part of their probation, Cooper said.

“We don’t want them to hang out on the street,” Cooper said. “I think for a lot of these kids it shows them that we care enough about them to keep them.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board will also consider a “safe schools plan” that recommends hiring six school safety officers, a dean of students for Carencro High, an additional assistant principal for Lafayette High and Comeaux High and purchasing security cameras for all school campuses.

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