By MARSHA SILLS
The (Baton Rouge) Advocate
LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Since its opening in 1998, more than 600 students have graduated from Lafayette Parish's Charter High School.
While the 10-year number is lower than the average annual graduation class of Lafayette Parish high schools, Charter High isn't your average high school.
That's why most students choose it.
At Charter High, students learn at their own pace via computer programs that teach the state's comprehensive curriculum. Class sizes are small and categorized by subject matter with students at different levels in the same class.
The computers don't bump the teacher out of the classroom, but rather students and teachers in the program say the model provides more opportunities for individualized instruction.
"I'm able to do individualized instruction because I have 15 instructors and I'm floating to make sure everyone's on task," said Gregory Chiasson, the science teacher at Charter High.
Tutors are also assigned to classrooms to assist students.
The school was created by the parish school district 10 years ago to decrease the number of high school dropouts, said Jody Duhon, Charter High's principal.
"That's still the case today, but it's evolved to another avenue for students who don't fit the traditional campus," she said. "The students that come here, they've decided they're not interested in the high school experience."
The reasons that bring students to apply to the school are unique to their own circumstances — an illness or the need to work to support one's self or family are just two of many examples of why students seek out Charter High.
"I didn't like high school and was thinking of dropping out," said Robbin Roundtree, 18.
Roundtree started at Charter in November and was classified as a sophomore.
"I think this is better for me because you learn what you learn in public school and you can take your time," he said.
The high school meets in the afternoons on the campus of the old LeRosen Elementary School in Lafayette. Students attend three hours a day. Because of the shortened class time, the academic calendar for the Charter High School students is longer at 244 days than the traditional 180.
The school also offers day-care for teenage parents and allows students to visit their children during breaks between classes.
Though it shares space with two alternative education programs, Duhon clarified that Charter High School is separate from those programs which target students with discipline issues.
Charter is one of the district's many "schools of choice" programs and students must apply for admission. New students are accepted each month and the only standing requirement is that students be registered at a Lafayette Parish high school.
Admission is capped at 150 students at a time.
Currently, there are roughly 30 spots open and each month 15 to 20 students are interviewed for possible admission, Duhon said.
A student's background — behavior issues, past school attendance, age versus number of credits already earned and prior academic achievement — are considered when a student applies and is interviewed, she said.
To earn a diploma, students must meet the same requirements of any high school student, including passage of the standardized exit exam, and also must maintain 90 percent attendance to remain in the program.
Students can also work toward eligibility in the state's TOPS tuition program — Tuition Opportunity Program for Students.
Despite their individual difficulties or obstacles, Duhon said students have chosen Charter because they have the same goal — to earn a diploma.
Last year, 68 students graduated and many are scheduled to complete their final course credits within the coming weeks.
Doses of motivation often come over the intercom during a ritual performed by graduates who announce their official completion of high school. On average, those announcements are made at least five to six times a month.
"You're really excited for the person and it makes you more ready and excited to finish and complete your own work," said Abigail Galloway, who is on track to complete her diploma in February, a few months ahead of her former Comeaux High School classmates.
An illness kept Galloway out of school for an extended period during her sophomore year at Comeaux.
"I knew even with doctors' excuses that I wouldn't be able to catch up and graduate on time," she said.
Galloway plans to attend South Louisiana Community College and then major in marketing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. There are some high school activities she admits she misses, but added that Duhon has made efforts to offer some traditional distractions, such as field trips and holiday celebrations.
One thing these students don't give up is that walk in a cap and gown. Once a year, the school holds a ceremony for all its graduates in the past year.
Last year, at least 12 of the 68 Charter High graduates went on to a four-year college, while others continued on to vocational training or jobs, Duhon said. Many, like Frankie Rideaux, 19, already hold full-time jobs and support a family of their own.
Rideaux formerly attended Carencro and began at Charter High in October. He works three days a week at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Opelousas.
His work — in the classroom and out — is worth it, he says. He has six more credits to complete before he'll earn his diploma.
"I felt it was real important for me to get my high school diploma and not just to get my GED," Rideaux said. "That's one of my goals to start out my life — to get my high school diploma. I do plan on going to college."
Courtesy of: The Advocate, http://www.2theadvocate.com