- Associated Press - Sunday, March 12, 2017

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A new online-only high school in St. Louis is allowing at-risk students a chance to get their diplomas.

St. Louis Public Radio (https://bit.ly/2nennGN ) reports that Workforce High is operated jointly by St. Louis Public Schools and the city’s job agency, St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE). It uses the same online curriculum as the district’s three alternative schools and four credit-recovery programs. Twenty students are participating.

Workforce High is designed to increase the district’s on-time graduation rate, which was about 73 percent last year. The national graduation rate is about 83 percent, and the Missouri average is 88 percent.

The district provides 24-hour support and access for students. On a recent day, a curriculum instructor checked in with 17-year-old Cedric Deshay to make sure he’s staying on track to graduate.

Deshay’s dad died when he was a baby, and his mom when he was 13. Gun violence plagues his neighborhood, where a recent killing was three houses down.

“I was falling behind in classes, falling asleep in class and stuff because of what was going on at home,” Deshay said. He was at risk of dropping out for his senior year before switching to Workforce High. Now, he’s expected to graduate by April at the latest. He’s considering joining the Air Force.

Some question the speed of progress for online students and wonder if they’re learning as much as they would in a traditional classroom.

Jessica Heppen with the nonpartisan, nonprofit American Institutes for Research said it’s clear more students are graduating with the help of credit recovery courses, but there hasn’t been enough research to determine whether the students are learning what they need to know to be prepared for college or a career.

“It’s just an open question about how much that matters, or what they really need are stepping stones to get to what’s next in their lives,” Heppen said.

Alice Prince, who helps oversee the school, said the hands-on support sets Workforce High apart.

The stakes are high. Prince said there is a “direct correlation between a young black male obtaining a high school diploma versus one going to jail for an assault, murder or theft.”

Jeavon Gill, 18, was in jail last year on a robbery charge. Studying at Workforce High through the Prison to Prosperity program helped get his charges dropped.

Gill said he passed two classes in the first month, then another in January.

“I just passed my trig and my advanced algebra. Only got three classes left,” said Gill, who wants to study nursing after graduation.

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Information from: KWMU-FM, https://www.kwmu.org

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