Edward J. Sam Accelerated School of Lafayette to Open in July to Lure Dropouts Back to the Classroom

Jody Duhon, principal of the new Edward J. Sam Accelerated School
Featured photo: Jody Duhon, principal of the new Edward J. Sam Accelerated School. Photo by Leslie Westbrook, Advocate

Originally posted by Leah Cavalier, The Advocate

Students hoping to resume their journey toward a high school diploma now have a unique opportunity at the Lafayette Parish School System’s new public school. The Edward J. Sam Accelerated School of Lafayette is slated to open July 17 at the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center campus. It will accept students in grades 7–12, at least 15 years old, who are seeking to earn a high school diploma.

“We’re working to pull back students who have already dropped out,” said Jody Duhon, the principal. “We want to try to pull those back who were close to a diploma and give them the opportunity to finish it. We don’t want the obstacles our kids face to force them to settle for something less than a high school diploma,” Duhon said.

Toward that end, the school offers a nontraditional setting, using a hybrid of computer-based classes and in-person instruction. Students can accrue time off for holidays or vacations because classes will be year-round. And, the school will have counselors to work with the students.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Department of Counselor Education will be sending two college students each semester to perform their internship at the school, said David Spruill, who coordinates the school counseling track. Spruill said the counselors will focus on three areas: academics, personal and social relations, and career goals. He said they will be helping students learn about graduation requirements and scholarship opportunities, as well as sharpening their career goals.

“My goal for the students we’ll be working with is that when they leave the program, they believe in themselves,” Spruill said. “I think if we can do that, they’ll be successful at Sam (Accelerated School) and they’re going to be successful beyond, as well.”

Duhon said she is hoping for about 200 students in the inaugural year, but the facility’s capacity is double that. She said she expects the school to grow and her staff is working to accept all the applicants who qualify.

“We’re hoping that as our students start experiencing success that more people will be interested in coming in,” she said. “Our goal is definitely to expand to whatever the need is in Lafayette Parish.”

Duhon added the school’s location was a strategic choice because the campus can accommodate students on the Jump Start pathway— Louisiana’s high school track focused on career and technical education and certifications. She said the staff will be credentialed in complementary Jump Start courses so students can work toward career goals while earning their diploma.

“It’ll be really convenient for students to take their Jump Start courses at the career center and be able to do their core academics and complementary academics with us at E.J. Sam,” Duhon said.

Spruill said he and his students are gathering data so they can help the returning students succeed from day one. He said pinpointing why the students returned to school and what their career goals are will help the counseling staff guide them to success. “We really want to support Dr. Aguillard’s vision for this district that all children have an equal opportunity to be successful in schools,” he said of school district Superintendent Don Aguillard.

The school is named in honor of the late Edward J. Sam, a parish school board member and longtime educator in the parish who died in 2015 and who was an advocate for at-risk students.

Edward J. Sam, former Lafayette School Board member

(Photo: New school named after Ed Sam, former Lafayette School Board member and advocate for at-risk students. Advocate file photo by Bryan Tuck)