EXCEL is an important initiative introduced in the summer of 2002. Following concerns that the Louisiana School educational experience was not available to students from under-resourced rural and inner city schools, math teacher Jennifer Mangum proposed EXCEL as a solution. Modeled on Upward Bound, a program in which she had several years experience, EXCEL identifies potential students who might otherwise fall below the line in the LSMSA admissions process.
Students with high GPAs (motivation) but lower than normal standardized test scores for admissions (knowledge gaps from an under-resourced home school) are invited to participate in an intensive four-week summer program. During this time, they are in class six to eight hours a day working math and chemistry problems, and writing for English and history. They learn the level and pace of academics at LSMSA. The students are also given classes in music, dance, and theatre and while living in Prudhomme, they gain a sense of the rich residential experience that comes with being a LSMSA student. At the end of the four weeks, if their assessment is positive, and if they want to continue in this new-found “living/learning experience” they are invited to enroll in the fall as juniors. The success of the program is in the numbers. The students in EXCEL have a higher retention/graduation rate than the general LSMSA student population, and their ACT scores increase by impressive numbers. The Class of 2005 included the first EXCEL graduates, and each was highly sought after by colleges and universities. One student received the prestigious Parks Scholarship from North Carolina State University.
As might be expected, most of the students who qualify for EXCEL also have very limited financial ability. The EXCEL Fund is used in two ways. Currently, summer school at LSMSA costs any student $400. EXCEL students are given a $200 scholarship from the EXCEL Fund. This allows them to feel that their desire and ability are valuable. The family pays $200 as an indication of their commitment. The admissions goal for EXCEL students is currently 10% of the incoming class, or twenty to twenty-two students, so this requires at least $4000 per year. Secondly, the EXCEL Fund helps these students through their two years at LSMSA enjoy academic opportunities, such as summer research or college visits, and social experiences that are part of the LSMSA experience, such as renting a tux or Prom dress or participating in field trips.
EXCEL is truly effective, not just in increasing the ability of the Louisiana School to reach more of the state’s population, but also in giving these students new direction, stronger abilities, and bigger dreams.