Education options highlighted

Learning how to speak Chinese or what it takes to build a robot are just a couple of the options given to students as part of the Lafayette Parish School System’s Schools of Choice programming.

The programs offer students, regardless of where they attend school in the parish, the option to enroll in programs specific to foreign language immersion or career interests.

About 5,700 of the district’s 31,000 students are enrolled in the Schools of Choice programs, according to enrollment data provided by the school system.

Interested students and their parents can learn more about the offerings during the district’s Fall Frenzy from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Lafayette Convention Center.

At the event, parents and students can browse booths for each program, talk with teachers and students involved, and get a taste of what makes the program unique with hands-on activities.

The event also marks the beginning of the application process. Due to the popularity of the programs and limited space, interested students must apply. A computerized lottery held in the early spring selects students for each program.

The programs start as early as elementary school with foreign language immersion options in French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, and other programs focused on the arts, technology and environmental sciences.

Starting in middle school, career-focused academies begin with opportunities to study environmental science; biomedical sciences; science, technology, engineering and math disciplines; and performing arts.

Students can continue their study interests in high school academies, which also include legal studies, health careers and the Early College Academy that enables students to earn a high school diploma in tandem with an associate degree from South Louisiana Community College.

The district’s largest program is the arts and technology school of choice at J. Wallace James Elementary School, where 893 students are enrolled in grades preschool through five.

The district has two more schools in which all students are in the program — L. Leo Judice Elementary School and the David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy.

One program the district hopes to grow is its newest addition to the Schools of Choice lineup — the academy of legal studies at Northside High School, said Randall Domingue, schools of choice marketing and recruitment coordinator.

Domingue said the program builds upon Northside’s law studies courses and the success of its mock trial team. Students will have an opportunity to earn college credit for criminal justice courses taught by SLCC faculty.

The district does not have plans to launch new programs or expand its programs, said Burnell LeJeune, district director of career and technical education and schools of choice.

LeJeune said district and college officials have expressed interest in offering more seats in the district’s Early College Academy; however, not only additional funding but additional space would be needed to expand that program, which is housed on the SLCC campus.

In May, the Early College Academy’s first graduating class of 30 students received diplomas and associate degrees.

Only 80 new freshmen are accepted each year and expanding the program would take board approval, Domingue said.

School officials also are considering an expansion of another popular Schools of Choice program: foreign language immersion.

A task force is reviewing the district’s immersion programming and will make a recommendation for any potential changes for the 2013-14 school year in January.

For more information about schools of choice, visit http://www.lafayettechoice.com.

The application period ends Jan. 31.