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Tulsa Schools Taking on Strict New Alternative Education Program

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Tulsa Public Schools superintendent Dr. Michael Zolkoski is getting tough on behavior problems. He says the large number of suspensions and expulsions at TPS pushed him to introduce a new program. It's designed specifically for students who are suspended or expelled for serious behavior and legal violations. The new program will begin next school year. It will be called PTP which stands for Performance Training Program. In Lafayette, Louisiana, they already have this type of program in place. There it’s called LAPS, Lafayette Alternative Program for Students. Zolkoski was superintendent there when it began. News On 6 anchor Jennifer Loren reports he says Tulsa's new program will be very similar to this one.

A day in the life of a LAPS student begins at 6:45 a.m., with a rise and shine inspection enforced by a drill sergeant. LAPS students have a strict uniform. The boys have to cut their hair short. The girls wear theirs in a bun. They're not allowed to bring anything with them except their sweats and one piece of paper.

"It promotes being able to follow instructions and staying loyal to something,” said drill Sgt. Brian Lapoine. “That’s all part of being responsible."

They march everywhere. Each morning they raise the American flag. This exercise teaches them to honor their country and gives those with rank some responsibilities.

"The boot camp is not fun," said LAPS principal Herb Thayer.

Thayer has been at this school since Zolkoski hired him eight years ago. Before that, he was a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force.

He calls his program "boot camp."

"Is it tough? Yes. There's no sign outside that says The Holiday Inn,” said Thayer. “It’s mentally tough. It’s physically tough."

Physically tough because the program includes exercise, and we're not just talking about gym class. Their exercise includes sit ups, pushups, jumping jacks, running, and it lasts two hours.

You may ask why physical training should be part of education. Thayer says it teaches these kids that there are consequences for their actions.

"We're sending the message that we're disciplined here, that this is the way it is,” said Thayer. “Life is choices and life is consequences."

But that's not the only message the LAPS program is sending. Beyond academics, they teach students social skills they may not have learned at home, simple lessons like how to respect others.

"But you need to know that I'll respect you, but in turn you're going to respect me,” Thayer said. “I think that's important."

They teach the alternative students that they're not bad kids. They're good kids that made bad decisions. They press them to make good decisions by giving them points when they do. It’s how the program works, on merit.

"They get points per class period," said a LAPS teacher.

The pieces of paper they bring with them every day are their points sheets. They take them to every activity and every class. If they're good, they earn points. If they're bad, they lose points. When, and if, they reach their points goal, they're successful, and they get to go back to their home school.

But to some graduates of the program, leaving was the hardest part. They say they actually learned to like the boot camp.

"I think it’s a whole lot easier to learn over here, because there aren't as many kids,” said LAPS graduate Albert Pickney. “So the teachers can pay a whole lot more attention to each individual."

"I really learned a lot more about real life and about how things really work," said LAPS graduate Chris Lucente.

Graduate Kaylyn Savoy was constantly in trouble at his home school and almost got kicked out for good. But he says he got one last chance at the LAPS program, where he learned a valuable lesson.

"Now I know that I mean you give what you get. You know, it’s like I'm going to respect you as long as you respect me, and even if you don't respect me I'm going to do my best to respect you anyway,” said Savoy.

Now, as a member of the Army National Guard, Savoy thanks the LAPS program for changing his life.

"Well, the direction I was headed I mean, I really don't see me doing good in life if I wouldn't have come here," said Savoy.

Those students say the program is not perfect. Some of them say the academics were too easy. Plus, they all say it was difficult transitioning back in to their regular schools, where they dealt with bigger classes, peer pressure and the stigma attached to alternative school kids. All in all, though, they say it was great.

Watch the video:

New Alternative Education Program Coming To Green Country

WEB EXTRA: Extended Interview With Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Michael Zolkoski

WEB EXTRA: Extended Interview With Former LAPS Student Gregory Pickney

WEB EXTRA: Extended Interview With Former LAPS Student Kaylyn Savoy

WEB EXTRA: Extended Interview With Former LAPS Student Chris Lucente

WEB EXTRA: Extended Interview With Former LAPS Student Albert Pickney

WEB EXTRA: Extended Interview With Former LAPS Student Alisia Banks
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