RAPPS: A no excuses, strict discipline school setting

RAPIDES PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Statistics in for graduation rates in Louisiana show one out of every four students will not graduate on time. In many schools across the state it is because of discipline problems, students caught with drugs, fighting or being disruptive. Many times they are kicked out of school for weeks, months or even the entire year.

The question now has become, how do you get success out of students who simply do not see they are putting their future in jeopardy? In Rapides Parish, education leaders think they have found the answer using a no-excuses, strict discipline school setting.

At 8:15 a.m., the first bus makes its drop off at R.A.P.P.S. There aren't many children that unload, several others are dropped off by parents. So far, it appears to be a regular day.

"Don't talk. Hands behind your back," says Matthew Byrnes, the schools principal as students line up on yellow footprints. Girls on one side, boys on the other.

"Pull them shorts up," the schools resource officer says to another student.

Each morning, it's the same routine. Students line up and hold their hands at their back and listen to the same set of instructions.

"Everything is yes sir, no sir. Yes ma'am, no ma'am. If you have a question, you raise your right hand. Show respect and we're going to give respect," says Byrnes.

This is how things are done at Rapides Alternative Positive Program for Students, or R.A.P.P.S. It's an alternative school heavy with structure for students who've been put out of their regular schools for fighting, drugs or constantly disrupting class.

Four students at a time enter the building and walk through a metal detector and then are scanned with a wand. Their pockets are checked and emptied. Anything they have, is placed in a bag with the student's name on it, to be returned later.

"You make one mistake, you have to stay at this school for a good while. It's not fun," said Devin Pelican, a ninth grader. Pelican was expelled from his regular high school, Buckeye High, in April 2014. He says he was caught with marijuana during a random drug search at the school.

Pelican came to the alternative school when it was called Aiken Optional. He says back then, you either showed up or you didn't and pretty much did what you wanted to.

Principal Byrnes, helped develop this new program. R.A.P.P.S. opened its doors in August. Any student that is expelled, in grades six through twelve, has to attend the program.

Middle school students have interaction with a teacher, but high schooler work is all computer based.

Every student receives points from each other their teachers, based on attendance, doing their work and respecting others. It's what they call making their day. For every day that's not made, that's one additional day added to their stay at the alternative school.

When a student is not sent back to their school, they will know exactly why.

He says this new way of doing things holds the students more accountable for their actions, getting them to straighten up and earn their way back to their regular school.

"We have some students that should have gone back a month ago that are still here because they have not met what they need to meet yet. Behavior wise or academic wise," Byrnes added.

Even in the hallways, students are not allowed to talk. They can only walk on the right side of the hallway and are usually supervised as they change classes. There is no social time.

"I could be playing sports, lifting weights, have a little more freedom roaming the hall, talk to people," said Davion Johnson, a tenth grader who is at R.A.P.P.S. for the year. He says he was expelled from Tioga High after he was caught with drugs. "I'm upset at myself because of what I did to get in this predicament. I don't blame nobody but myself."

Once a day the students are separated for drill. Even during that time, the corporal at the school is still policing behavior.

"Pull them up. Tighten that belt up. I can almost assure you they won't come back down," he tells one student.

Byrnes says things are not perfect yet, but it's still early. He says they have discipline problems too, but they are working to make things better and he believes they are on the right track.

On paper, the alternative school should have 120 students. On average, Byrnes says there are 70 to 80 students at the school.

Since the program started, they've sent 10 students back to their regular school. They plan to check their progress in mid-November.

"Are we going to be able to save every child? No, we're not," said Byrnes.

As for Devin Pelican, he's up for early release for good behavior.

"I don't want to come back here," Pelican said.

Byrnes says he's hopeful the program will serve as a model for other school districts in the state, to get students to take their actions and their schooling more seriously.

"I see this program really being successful," Byrnes said. "Our goal is to get them out of here and back to their school."

At the end of this week, another 10 students will be sent back to their regular schools. In December, another 15 to 20 will be released from the program.

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