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Students adapting to new suspension program

By Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / March 12, 1998

BOUTTE – “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

People’s actions are often influenced by their attitudes. A negativeattitude often leads them to do things they normally would not do. That isas true for adults as it is for students.

There is a new program in the St. Charles Parish School System that hashad an effect on a number of students’ attitudes on school as well as life.That is the “Alternative Discipline A Positive Turnaround” (ADAPT)program, an alternative to out of school suspensions.

In the past when a student was suspended, he or she served thatsuspension at home. But often, that time served was more of a vacationthan a punishment. Students missed class work, which caused them to fallbehind in school. And with more and more parents working, those studentswere often left unsupervised, opening opportunities for them to get introuble on the streets.

The ADAPT program tries to alleviate those problems. Unlike in the past,students serve their suspensions in school but away from their peers. Thestudents complete any school work they normally would miss while alsolearning discipline in a controlled environment.

An alternative to out of school suspensions was mandated by the LouisianaLegislature by the start of the 1995-96 school year. The school systemdid not want to jump into a program, however, and wanted the opportunityto research other programs.

“We wanted to see what other people were doing,”ADAPT CoordinatorLarry Anthony said. “We wanted to see how they fit into our situation andtook what we thought was best out of every program.”

Any seventh- to 12th-grade student who commits an act that results insuspension must attend the ADAPT program. Exceptions are studentssuspended for severe violence, violence on a school employee, weapons ordrugs. Those students are recommended for expulsion and do not attend theADAPT program.

The program is located at the two high schools in the parish. Studentssuspended from Destrehan High School and Harry Hurst and Cammon Middleschools attend the east bank site at Destrehan High School. Studentssuspended from Hahnville High School and J.B. Martin and Eual J. LandryMiddle schools attend the west bank site at Hahnville High School.

Students’ time in ADAPT depends on the number of times they have beensuspended – three days for the first offense, six days for the secondoffense and nine days for the third suspension. The program operates onthe calendars and daily time schedules on the respective high schools.Additional days in the program may be assigned for any violations of theprogram’s rules.

There are four goals the program seeks to achieve – to reduce the numberand frequency of students suspended, expelled and/or excluded; to provideall students with an environment that is safe and conducive to learning; toprovide students with experiences that develop social skills so that theymay become positive contributors to themselves and society; and toprovided an academic environment for students who would otherwise be atrisk to themselves and the community due to unstructured andunsupervised time.

Anthony said the school system wanted to make it a place the studentsdidn’t like so they wouldn’t get suspended any more and help them changetheir behavior in school. He said it offers the students two importantthings they need even if they didn’t want them – discipline and schoolwork.

The students’ teachers are responsible for sending all school work to thesite. ADAPT teachers are on hand at the sites to provide any assistancewith assignments, but students are responsible for completing their ownwork. Failure to complete assignments could result in the studentspending extra days in the program.

Another major component of the program is discipline. Students mustadhere to a dress code that includes a collared shirt and slacks and a tiefor males. Students are assigned to individual work stations and can speakonly with permission. When a visitor enters, the students rise and stand atattention and welcome the visitor.

“We are teaching the kids responsibility, about decisions andconsequences,” Eric Chuter, a teacher at the Hahnville site, said. “Nobodygets mad. We treat them with respect.”

One of the most important aspects of ADAPT is the counseling allparticipants must undertake before leaving the program. A full-timecounselor, Juni Bowes, is employed by the program. Bowes said she talksto each student about why they were suspended and the circumstancesthat led to the suspension.

When a student is suspended a third time the parents must attend aparenting class conducted by Bowes at the school board office in Luling.From there the parents and student must report to the district attorney’soffice.

“It is a chance for the parents and kids to talk about the problem,” Bowessaid.

Both Bowes and Anthony agree that counseling is an essential part of theprogram.

“Punishment with counseling is not as effective,” Anthony said.Students are required to write an essay when they first enter the programabout why they were suspended. The counselor looks at the essays andcompares it to the school’s report and uses it during the counselingsession.

The final component of the program is drill and exercise. The exerciseincludes a light workout that offers a students a chance to stretch outfrom sitting all day. The marching is designed to incorporate disciplineand teamwork.

Anthony said every component of the program, from the academics to thedress code to the marching, is to make the students look good. “It is all for their benefit,” Anthony said. “It is punishment, but it is notyelling and screaming punishment.”

Anthony said the program gets tremendous help from the community. Asheriff’s deputy is assigned to each site, and Anthony said that alone hasan impact on the students. Students who do not conform are sent to thedistrict attorney’s office, and Anthony said all but a minute number havecome back and one well after talking to the district attorney.”It adds clout to the program,” Anthony said. “We have the communityservices backing us up. They realize problems at the school lead toproblems in the community.”

The students also must write essays when they leave about what theylearned from ADAPT. Anthony said 99.9 percent of the students say they donot want to go back.

“Just getting them to say it is a big step,” Anthony said. “They are almostall good kids who made a bad decision at one time or another. Peerpressure is taken away here. It’s you alone. There is nobody behind themmaking decisions. It makes them realize it is their decision solely and itis them that gets punished if they get caught.”If we can make them realize what they did was wrong and make themresponsible for their actions, than we have succeeded to a small extent.”The response from the students has been positive.

In ADAPT, I learned to start thinking before I act,” read one essay. “Ilearned not to use clouded judgment at school or anywhere. A life ofseclusion is not something I want. There is still time to make a U-turn.”Another one began, “I learned that what I did was very wrong andirresponsible. At the time of my wrong doing, I was not thinking. I knowthat I must accept responsibility for my behavior. Next time, I will thinkabout the situation and the consequences that follow it.”

The numbers tell the success of the program. For the first semester of the1996-97 school year when out of school suspensions were used, 1,125students were suspended in the parish. In the first semester of this schoolyear when ADAPT was in effect, 564 students were suspended, a 50percent decrease.

The number of first suspensions has dropped by 39 percent, while thenumber of students suspended a second time has dropped by 63 percent. Inthe first semester of 1996-97, 107 students served three suspensions. Inthe first semester of 1997-98, that number was 20, a 81 percent drop.And in 1996-97, 16 students served a fourth suspension. None did in thefirst semester of 1997-98.

“You can’t argue with success,” Anthony said. “We keep the kids off thestreet and give them the benefit of getting credit for their school work.The parents know where their kids are and that they are being supervisedand taught. It is a win-win situation for everybody.”

Photo: STUDENTS AT THE ADAPT EAST BANK SITE drill under the guidance ofA’lisha Harris, who leads the physical fitness component of the program.Drilling is another component of the program that teaches teamwork anddiscipline.

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