Small La. School Is Sending Kids To The Ivy League

BREAUX BRIDGE, La. (AP) — The flags are the first thing you notice when you drive into the parking lot of T.M. Landry College Prep.

Blowing in the wind, they showcase the colors and logos of universities like Syracuse, Boston, Brown, Harvard, Columbia and more.

In the school's entryway, there are more banners for places like Fordham University, Louisiana Tech and Yale University.

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"We only display the flags of schools where our students have been accepted. We're waiting on one from Stanford right now," said Tracey Landry, the principal of T.M. Landry and one of the school's founders.

The building, on Rees Street in Breaux Bridge, isn't perfect. It's a former fabrication facility that has problems with the air conditioning and bathrooms. A capital campaign is underway to help pay for renovations. There is no cafeteria; students bring their own lunches.

But something is going very right at T.M. Landry.

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All of its graduates attend four-year universities, many on full scholarships. Most have ACT scores in the high 20s and 30s.

Now in its 12th year, T.M. Landry is garnering national recognition, especially after a video of student Ayrton Little getting accepted to Harvard went viral online in mid-December.

School leaders from Texas, Oklahoma, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and more have called T.M. Landry, wanting to know about their methods and processes.

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"It's not just about T.M. Landry. It's about allowing all of us to do well in the greater Acadiana area," said Mike Landry, the school's executive director.

"I kind of look at it as, we talk about Silicon Valley, and I would like I-10 to become the Bayou Valley — we create the best technologies; we're the innovators. We know that if that happens, we don't have to worry about kids going to prison; everyone is flocking to our area, which would increase tax dollars, and our kids would be extremely successful."

A little more than a decade ago, Mike and Tracey started having concerns about the education their son and daughter were receiving. The kids brought home good grades, but their parents found the kids weren't retaining much information.

Mike Landry complained to the school and eventually began working there. Still dissatisfied, he began homeschooling his son.

Word spread to other families, and in June 2005, Mike and Tracey gathered five students, they said had been labeled by school or society as "black troublemakers," at their kitchen table and started teaching.

"We had no idea it would turn into this," Tracey said. "Mike talks about how he had good grades and went off to USL (the then-University of Southwestern Louisiana) and wanted to be an engineer, but realized he wasn't ready.

"We make sure they are ready to go to and through college. That's part of our mission."

T.M. Landry College Prep has no traditional-looking classrooms.

There are no bells and no formal schedule. In general, most class sessions run around 50 minutes, but can go longer or shorter, depending on if the students are mastering the material.

Students from different grades often work together. For example, at a long table, one student worked on computer science, another practiced ACT math problems and two collaborated on an assignment about functions. Across the room, an instructor worked one-on-one with a student on a math problem.

"Our teachers get a lot of individual time," Mike said. "They will move around and teach specifically to you. If a student is struggling, they don't have to be embarrassed to raise their hand. It's a more respectful environment."

In a large space near the back of the building, multiple lessons are going on at once.

About six students take a math class. Younger students play with Legos. An older student also has Legos, but the requirement is different; he will have to design something based on a drawing.

Elsewhere in the space, an instructor teaches a physics lesson to two students.

"When he feels they understand the concepts, he will let them go and bring in another group," Mike said. "Not having the bells or saying you only have 45 minutes, that allows them to get to the next level."

In many classes, a T.M. Landry high school student will teach to younger students. An instructor will follow up, and the younger students can give feedback about how the lesson went.

"The student teaches to see if he fully understands," Mike explained. "We get a chance to check his skills, and the younger students learn what a high schooler should be. They understand the standard they are going to have to achieve."

Some days, students focus on science, technology, engineering and math; on others, the emphasis is more on English, philosophy, literature and political science.

But because of the less-rigid nature of the school, classes in all of those subjects could take place at any given time.

Particularly in high school, students can set their own schedules. They can take calculus in the morning on some days and the afternoon on others. There are regular breakout sessions where small groups can work on any number of subjects.

For example, on a recent Wednesday, students in one breakout session watched and discussed a documentary on wartime, while others helped each other with math problems.

"There's a lot of peer-to-peer work, and then they work with an instructor," Mike said. "We want to develop creative, critical thinking skills and develop them into autonomous individuals."

Right now, T.M. Landry has a little more than 100 students. There's a waiting list.

More students are accepted regularly, but Tracey said the school doesn't want to grow too fast and risk affecting the current culture.

The school receives no state or federal funding. Tuition ranges from $525 to $675 per year, depending on grade level. There's also a $525 registration fee. Mike said one of his top goals is to have no tuition at the school.

But his main focus, besides keeping T.M. Landry on the right track, is to expand its educational focus and philosophy as far and wide as possible.

The school offers free tutoring on Saturdays to any student, regardless of their school or location, as part of that mission.

And with more T.M. Landry students enrolled at Ivy League and other high-level universities, Mike is making sure they don't just represent their campus.

"What we tell our students is to be humble and understand that what you are doing right now is for the greater good," he said.

"Louisiana has to win. When our kids go off to college, they can't wear anything that says T.M. Landry. I buy them a shirt that says 'Louisiana' for them to wear. They need to know they represent the whole state."

-By Amanda McElfresh, The Advertiser

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