Jan 10, 2013 01:15 Students work during break Students work during break Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCKNoDropouts Regional Advocate Jessica Cain, left, works with student Armoni Gotch recently at the St. Martinville Library in St. Martin Parish. Program helps high school dropouts get on track for diplomas Marsha Sills| Acadiana bureau Jan. 10, 2013 Comments LAFAYETTE — While most students in Acadiana are enjoying a holiday hiatus from the classroom, nearly a dozen high school dropouts in St. Martin Parish are working through the break as part of a program that helps them earn their diplomas. The NoDropouts program, which is offered by the educational services company The American Academy, works in partnership with school districts to recruit dropouts and provide them with online educational courses and support services. The program has been in operation in St. Martin Parish for the past few months and enrolls 11 students. It is set to begin in Lafayette Parish in February and recruiting of students is under way, Doug Bonner, the company’s dropout recovery adviser for Louisiana, said in an e-mail. Students receive an Internet-enabled laptop that gives them access to their courses anytime, anywhere and support from an advocate, online mentor and 24-hour access to online tutors. “There are no holiday breaks,” said Jessica Cain, a regional advocate for NoDropouts, who works with St. Martin Parish students. “They work at their own pace, but they’re required to do 20 hours a week at their own pace.” Cain serves as the students’ adviser and meets with them weekly. During those weekly sessions, students take tests, set goals and receive guidance to ensure they stay on track with their courses, Cain said. “We do things on the local level. If they need community resources, we help provide that for them,” Cain said. “They discuss with us different issues they may have. We help them develop a schedule. Make sure that they understand that we’re not just there to help them academically, but personally, as well.” Students also have an online mentor who helps them with scheduling and any other issues, Cain explained. The students’ mentor and advocate work together as a team to help their assigned students, she said. Students’ reasons for dropping out of school are as varied as their reasons for enrolling in the program. Many want to attend college and many balance work, family and school to work toward their goals, Cain said. “They’re not in your traditional system of a high school, but that doesn’t designate how driven they are,” Cain said. Armoni Gotch, 18, dropped out of high school last year when she was pregnant with her now, 7-month-old child, and is now taking sophomore- and junior-level courses as she takes steps to complete her diploma. Gotch said she had planned to enroll in a GED program until she got a call about the NoDropouts program. The program receives a list of dropouts from its partnering school district and reaches out to students. After learning about the program, Gotch said she felt it was a better option. “I thought it would give me a better opportunity to find a better job and support my kids,” she said. Gotch said she would like to continue her education after graduation and possibly pursue training in cosmetology. Fitting school around the schedule of a busy life with a 2-year-old and 7-month-old has been easier with the program, she said. “It’s an easier environment for me,” she said. “I can work at my own pace. When they fall asleep, that’s my time to work.” Gotch is on schedule to complete her diploma in March 2014, if not sooner, she said. Bonner said recruitment of dropouts in Lafayette Parish began last weekend. Bonner said the program has partnerships with 14 school districts in Louisiana: St. Martin, Lafayette, Ascension, Evangeline, West Baton Rouge, St. John, St. James, Richland, Ouachita, Pointe Coupee, Morehouse, Jackson, East Carroll and West Feliciana. Editor’s note: This story was changed Jan. 2, 2013, to correct the name of the company offering the No Dropouts program. The correct name is The American Academy.