LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School System is considering a program that offers over-age fifth-graders a chance to catch up academically with their peers.

The program would start small with 40 students and offer individualized instruction at the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center, said Katie Landry, district deputy superintendent of instructional services.

“These are potential dropouts,” Landry told the School Board at its Sept. 7 meeting. “We feel like we can make a difference for these students.

A proposal to launch the experimental program will be made to the board at its meeting on Wednesday, Landry said.

Landry said staff is developing condensed curriculums for the fifth- and sixth-grade levels. By midterm, students in the program could test out of the fifth grade and begin the condensed sixth-grade curriculum, Landry explained.

Students who succeed in the program would join the seventh-grade class next year, she said.

At least 223 students are considered “over-age fifth-graders” — meaning they’re 12 years old or older by Sept. 30. Landry said these students are between the ages of 12 and 14 and failed a grade level two or more times.

Of those 223 students, 132 are overage fifth-graders on an elementary campus and 91 are over-age fifth-graders on a middle school campus, according to information provided by Nelda Broussard, district director of census, student behavior and health services.

If approved by the School Board, the program would launch with only 40 students. After the first year, the program would be evaluated to determine growth, Landry said.

Program participation would be voluntary. While the program targets those students on the elementary campuses, over-age fifth-graders on middle school campuses will also be given the option to apply, Landry said.

“It’s got to be tough for a 13-year-old to sit in a fifth-grade class on an elementary campus,” Landry said. “We feel we can better meet their needs through this program. It will be highly individualized instruction.”

Landry said program costs could be covered by federal stimulus funding to purchase needed technology — computers and interactive Promethean whiteboards for the individualized instruction.

The district has a similar program called Connections that helps over-age middle students get back on grade level. Last year, the program was revamped and moved to the Career Center.

This year, 135 students are enrolled in Connections, Broussard said.