Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Centers Become Lifeline to Potential School Dropouts Student Making Use of Second Chance

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Centers Become Lifeline to Potential School Dropouts Student Making Use of Second Chance

Article excerpt

Byline: Laura Diamond, Times-Union staff writer

Returning to school hasn't been easy for Leah Hill.

There was the time she threw a geometry textbook against her bedroom wall. And just thinking about American history gives the 18-year-old a headache.

When Hill gets frustrated, she imagines walking across a stage and receiving her high school diploma. She dropped out of high school last year, but returned in August to enter a new program at Andrew Jackson High designed to give struggling students another chance.

Before entering the Accelerated Learning Center, Hill had yet to pass ninth grade. But after spending one year in the special classes, she expects to graduate in October.

"If I've got to be in high school until I'm 20-something, I don't care. At least I'm doing it," Hill said. "I may have messed up before, but this place lets me make up my mistakes."

Hill is among nearly 400 Duval County students who enrolled in the center, which has sites at Andrew Jackson and Forrest high schools.

Some students, like Hill, had dropped out. Others are at risk of doing so, having failed several classes.

Students attend class for two hours a day. They take one course at a time and must earn at least a C. The courses are at the same level of difficulty as those in a traditional classroom, but students work at their own pace.

After the first year, 33 students are expected to graduate. Teachers at both sites agree they would not have done so without the Accelerated Learning Center.

Superintendent John Fryer wants a learning center at nearly every high school. But they cost about $800,000 at each site -- dampening any plans to expand next year.

"It is obvious that our community needs these centers," Fryer said. "We have to do something to help our students who struggle."

About 8 percent of Duval County's high school students dropped out last year, the highest dropout rate in the state and more than double the state average.

Last year, one in three of the school system's 13,000 ninth-graders failed. Students who repeat a grade are twice as likely to drop out.

"Students who come here must realize they're the ones responsible for their own success," said Ray Weber, the program's lead teacher at Andrew Jackson. …

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