Districts launch evening, online high schools for at-risk students

Programs have led to increased graduation rates
By: | March 11, 2016

In January, the Jackson Public Schools became the first district in Mississippi to launch an evening high school that students attend from 2:30 to 8:30 p.m.

It’s designed for students whose other commitments—such as jobs or caring for their own children or younger siblings—make traditional school hours difficult.

A similar evening program in neighboring Alabama has helped Walker County Schools increase graduation rates 14 points, to 87 percent, and cut its dropout rate by 11 points, to just 3 percent.

The district of about 10,000 students also has whittled away at a high absentee rate by revamping its alternative school. It’s now called the “180 Program” (for 180-degree turn) and features extensive online learning that gives students more flexibility in completing assignments, says Mary Slaughter, Walker County schools’ coordinator of assessment and accountability and director of guidance and counseling.

“A lot of kids told us they could concentrate better if they didn’t have to wait for the teacher to tell them what to do next” Slaughter says. “It also allows students going more slowly to ask questions and get one-on-one attention from the teacher.”

The program also helps educators: Going online means that students’ grades are transmitted seamlessly back to their home schools when they leave the alternative program. In the past, students’ work sometimes disappeared in the shuffling of paperwork between buildings, Slaughter says.

Walker County Schools also has increased support services for at-risk students. The district will help students and families apply for housing, and connects them with food and clothing banks. And guidance counselors assist with job searches and college applications. “All our students genuinely want a high school diploma, but the barriers these kids have to overcome become more of a priority” she says.

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