Abbeville High setting the standard for high school redesign

by AHS Staff

There is something cooking at Abbeville High School.

The teachers have rolled up their sleeves, put on their aprons, and concocted a recipe which is beginning to finally take shape. The ingredients include a caring attitude, a dedication to seeing students succeed, and a sacrifice of time, sprinkled with some traditional Cajun ideals of family and community. The final product is a system designed to effectively assist students in attaining success – The Freshman Academy.

In 2004, Abbeville High School, under the leadership of Ralph Thibodeaux, joined a number of schools in Louisiana to pilot a restructuring effort known as High School Redesign. This effort revolves around four main goals: (1) reduce dropouts and increase graduation rates, (2) increase preparedness for postsecondary education, (3) increase career readiness for students, and (4) increase participation in postsecondary education. The main focus for Abbeville High School has been the Freshman Academy.

Research has consistently shown that students who are successful in moving from their freshman year to their sophomore year on schedule have a seventy percent greater chance of obtaining a high school diploma. The transition period for students from the middle school to high school has long been earmarked with a number of challenges. To assist students in dealing with these challenges, the Freshman Academy employs a number of interventions and strategies.

The impact of the Freshman Academy can be seen in the data from the past four years. Attendance rates of freshmen have increased from 91% to 95%, discipline referrals have decreased 25%, and the average GPA has increased from 2.2 to 2.5. At the end of the 2004-2005 school year, only 77% of the true freshmen succeeded in moving on to their sophomore year. By June of 2008, 90% of the freshmen had secured a place as a sophomore, while increasing their performance on the iLEAP to composite of 51. However, getting these young students to their sophomore year is only one aspect of Abbeville High’s redesign.

School-wide, the need to enhance the curriculum in order to provide more rigorous courses and advanced career opportunities has also been an objective. Thus, increased professional development opportunities have been afforded to Abbeville High staff, including training in teaching advanced placement (AP) courses. Technology has also been included with the Louisiana Virtual School (LVS) which affords students the opportunity to take a wide variety of classes via the Internet and the purchase of teacher laptops and mobile computer labs. To assist all students in assessing their progress in relation to their goals, advisory homerooms are conducted every three weeks where teachers and students can discuss grades, behavior, and attendance issues.

The majority of the funds used in implementing High School Redesign at Abbeville High come from a number of state grants. Joseph Nagy, leader of the Freshman Academy and math teacher, has been very instrumental in the attainment of the grants and ensuring the effective use of the funds.

As the 2008- 2009 school year began, Abbeville High School has a new principal, James Segrest, and High School Redesign only continues to improve. Currently, Abbeville High is revered as a model school for High School Redesign in the state. Over twenty high schools have sent administrators, counselors, and teachers to visit Abbeville High in the hopes of attaining the same success. In addition to the visitations, the administration routinely receives calls from other high schools throughout the state asking for information regarding the Freshman Academy and High School Redesign.

South Louisiana is renowned for its cuisine and hospitality. Abbeville High is making sure that Louisiana knows that the education of the youth of Abbeville is vital to the success of its community and heritage.

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