AMIkids Donaldsonville closes its door

AMIkids students Sha-Darrion McKinley talks to Ascension Parish policemen about the school earlier this month.

The AMIkids Donaldsonville has closed down due to the lack of funding. Executive Director, Rhiannon Traigle wrote to the board members of the immediate closing while the students were out for the Thanksgiving holidays last week.

The school's enrollment dropped after it was contracted to only receive students from Ascension Parish Schools who had behavioral problems. Those students who were enrolled at AMI will be transitioned back into the A.P.S.

As of July 1st the school lost all of its Office of Juvenile Justice funding services, which is how the school was originally funded. AMI worked to negotiate contracts with the river parishes schools, but never was able to get St. James and Assumption Parish School Boards to agree. The Ascension Parish School Board agreed, but the school still needed supplemental funding to help rebuild after losing the O.J.J. funding.

"We were making some requests from the state and the governor's office for some additional funding for all of our programs state-wide," Traigle said. "And that money hasn't come through. Therefore, we couldn't financially continue to sustain our program here."

According to Traigle, the O.J.J. took a lot of budget cuts and funding cuts, so a lot of its contractors were cut and the AMI contract was one of them. With Assumption and St. James, Traigle said there is a piece of legislation saying that the school districts have to continue providing education treatment and behavior modification for kids who are suspended from school. They can either contract out for those services or provide it themselves.

"When we lost our O.J.J. contract, we went to the school boards saying, 'do you all want to contract with us to provide the services?',"Traigle said. "Ascension said yes. Because it's a very new bill passed, St. James and Assumption asked to wait for some rules to be delegated so we could know exactly what we were working with. At this time they decided not to contract with us to see if they could provide some of those services themselves."

Traigle said she doesn't know what is next for the kids. She said it will be up to the schools and judges to figure out how best they can be served. AMIkids Donaldsonville was a non-profit organization and was an American Correctional Association accredited Intensive Day Treatment Program that offered the Personal Growth Model, which has three components: treatment, behavior modification and Education.

The students aren't the only ones who suffer from the loss of this program. The staff and the community suffer too. Many of the staff have been with the program since it opened in 2006 and have become attached to the students who have come through the doors and will miss being able to give them opportunities they can't get elsewhere.

"We thank Ascension Parish for supporting us, but we wish the other parishes would have supported us because it's a very needed program," Andrea Johnson said, Community Coordinator for AMIkids Donaldsonville. "It's a loss to the community, it really is. Our program gives our kids a sense of hope and belonging."

Johnson said the program offers the kids a second chance and we gave them opportunities from learning how to compete. Johnson said they help them through bonding.

For Traigle and Johnson's careers go, they were on the job market again. Fortunately for Johnson, she will be going to the AMIkids of Baton Rouge location.

"It's a job," she said and sighed.

There are still AMIkids programs remaining in the state and they will continue to fight for funding and for the Donaldsonville location to re-open.