The Tucson Unified School District will launch an initiative Monday to attract dropouts back to the classroom.
“It’s very hard out there without a high school diploma, and we want our students to understand that we’re still here,” said Abel Morado, assistant superintendent of secondary leadership.
TUSD GradLink will offer students the opportunity to complete their credits online at home or attend evening computer-lab sessions monitored by staffers. The initiative builds on a program of the same name launched by Sunnyside Unified School District earlier this year.
“Essentially, it is night school,” Morado said. “We will start them off at 5 p.m. and go to 9 p.m. It’s computer-based learning.” He added that students could graduate and receive their diplomas in a semester, depending on how many credits they need.
The open labs will be at Pueblo, Palo Verde and Tucson magnet high schools.
Stuart Baker, principal of Agave, TUSD’s online middle and high school, will coordinate GradLink.
He said the face-to-face interaction between students and staff is an essential part of retaining students.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to have the self-discipline to regularly log on,” Baker said. “Having a blended learning environment where you have to be in class for a certain amount of time kind of keeps you going.”
To enroll in the TUSD program, students will need to have completed 15 credits, passed two sections of the AIMS exam and be between 17 and 20 years old. Students need to complete at least 23 credits to graduate.
There are several differences between the Sunnyside and TUSD programs. Sunnyside lends students a laptop to do coursework outside of class. TUSD will not. Baker said it could be an option in the future, depending on budget availability and enrollment.
Sunnyside GradLink also requires two more credits to enroll and admits students up to 21 years old.
The annual cost of the program is $188,000, according to district spokeswoman Cara Rene. Part of this will allow TUSD to fill eight part-time positions, including instructional specialists, monitors, a counselor and a staff assistant.
Three TUSD teachers will also be paid additional wages to work in the evening labs. Baker will coordinate the program in addition to his duties at Agave Middle and High schools.
Though the program begins Monday, the district is still in the process of hiring staff members.
The software and curriculum will be adopted from what is already used in Agave’s high school courses.
What’s unclear is how many students will show up on the first day of cyberclass.
“Honestly, we are going to be calling and in communication with students through the weekend to let them know what’s going on,” Baker said.
Baker said the program will call students whose names are pulled from TUSD’s list of those who leave school each year. The program also is relying on word of mouth, posters and social media.
“Just as with any program, the numbers will start small,” Baker said. “The hope is to get at least 30 (students) per site and build to 60 or even 100.”