Intensive education programs face funding cuts in Lafayette

Aneatra Bedford, 14, reached a milestone this school year: She stayed in school.

“It’s the first time since the fourth grade that I’ve been in school all year,” Aneatra said.

Aneatra was kicked out of Judice Middle School and sent to the district’s second chance school for students with behavior problems — N.P. Moss Preparatory. She couldn’t follow the rules there, either, so she was expelled from Moss, and understands why.

“I was a follower, not a leader at Moss,” she said.

She was given another chance in a more intensive program housed on the Moss campus called AMIKids where she said she felt something click inside her. Instead of trying to return to her zoned school this school year, she asked to stay in AMIKids.

“I learned to control my anger and walk away,” Aneatra said. “They listen to you. They believe in you. They show me that by listening to me.”

AMIKids is an intensive academic and behavior intervention program offered by a nonprofit group of the same name based in Florida. The program has a residential school in Acadia Parish, and last school year, the Lafayette Parish School System contracted with the nonprofit group to offer its day program to students who don’t excel at Moss Prep. The program was first offered in late spring 2013 and in the past school year, AMIKids has become more a part of the Moss campus, said Jamile Emile, the Lafayette AMIKids program director.

“We collaborate with the staff and work together to keep kids in school,” Emile said. “We’ve seen improvements from last year to this year.”

Moss Prep and AMIKids both face potential cuts in the upcoming budget cycle. The school system faces an $18 million shortfall. The School Board met in a budget workshop May 20 and reviewed ways to close the funding gap.

The school district staff proposed using about $10.8 million of the district’s reserve fund and paying for some staff positions with the 2002 sales tax revenues as one option. Another option involves making cuts to programs. The elimination of the district’s contract with AMIKids and a staffing reduction at Moss Prep are both on the list at a projected savings of $900,000.

“The loss of AMI would be a tremendous negative effect for us,” said Moss Principal Jody Duhon. “I would prefer to staff more creatively and explore other possible cuts.”

On Friday, Superintendent Pat Cooper said he doesn’t want to see either program cut. The cost to launch AMIKids and continue the program this school year were shared by the Lafayette Consolidated Government, the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.

Cooper said Friday the school district plans to ask the agencies to continue their financial assistance. The annual contract for the program is about $380,000. The program saves the community money in the long run because without the second chance programs, the students would drop out of school, Cooper said.

Moss likely doesn’t mark improvements the same as other schools, noted Duhon. While it’s not unusual to hear foul language on her campus, she said the staff has noticed students are keeping themselves in check when they let disrespectful language slip and they apologize for it.

“The fact that our kids wear their pants on their waist is huge for us,” she said. “We’re not going to change 10 years of behavior in nine months. Kids who were here last year and spent a whole year here, we see maturity in them. We see our kids are invested in our school. They’re beginning to take ownership and trust us. We still have a long way to go.”

Students who exit the intensive AMIKids program must transition back to N.P. Moss Preparatory before they’re able to transition back to their home school.

For instance, at least 261 students will return to Moss Prep for the new school year instead of their zoned schools, Duhon said.

“If we’re not confident they’ll have success, we won’t send them back,” Duhon said.

Moss staff decides which students need the more intensive approach that AMIKids provides because space in that program is capped at 30 students, Emile said.

Duhon said the success of AMIKids and Moss Prep is measured not so much by numbers, but by student behavior.

“We measure success by putting them back in a situation where they were not successful before,” Duhon said.

This year, seven AMIKids returned to their home schools and of that number only one returned, Duhon said.

Aneatra is in the sixth grade, but supposed to be in the eighth. She made other milestones this school year: She passed the iLEAP and plans to take the 8th grade LEAP test this summer after attending a LEAP summer school course. If she passes the test this summer, she’ll be back on grade level and start ninth grade classes in August.

“I’m going to pass it,” she said. “I’ve done the work. I feel I’m ready for high school.”

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.