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Utah academy’s business is helping high school dropouts drop back in

Firm’s online learning model is benefitting students in six states.

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Once all credits have been completed, the student receives a diploma from his or her home school and district, not from the Academy.

The Hillsborough County School District in Tampa, Fla., is the eighth-largest in the nation, with more than 200,000 students. Hillsborough contracted with the Academy earlier this year, handing over a list of 2,600 names that recruiters could begin contacting.

At a glance

Education level and average annual income

$19,540 » High school dropout

$27,380 » High school diploma

$36,190 » Associate’s degree

$46.930 » Bachelor’s degree

Source: U.S. Department of Education

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"Sometimes they’re not easy to find," said enrollment counselor Bailey Nielson. "We have to go through relatives and friends to finally find the student."

Once they’ve made contact and explained the program, the response is overwhelmingly positive.

"We very rarely get anyone who says they’re not interested," Bailey said. "Over 90 percent sign up."

Students make no financial commitment, but Rosann emphasized that NoDropouts is not a "come get a free laptop" program.

"We set a pretty high bar for them," he said.

Students supply a list of friends and relatives they can count on for moral support as they pursue their diplomas. If a student fails to log in for a few days, these individuals are notified. And when a student does well on a test or completes a credit, those supporters hear about the progress so they can dish out praise.

Although the company capitalizes on technology to deliver its services, Rosann said the dropout recovery program is so much more than a computer, user name and password.

"It has to address that fact that these kids have complex lives," Rosann said. "What we offer is local advocacy that clears away the roadblocks and clutter in their lives."

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Rosann and Beck rolled out a large map of Hillsborough’s district, speckled with red dots, each representing a dropout’s location. This visual aid helped the staff determine where to place its local advocates.

"There’s something about this district that’s really special," Rosann beamed. "These kids are accruing credits at a really high rate — they’re super-engaged."

Tampa’s local advocate, Michael Thomas, 38, probably has a lot to do with that.

With a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and minor in psychology, coupled with almost two decades of social work experience, Thomas was well-equipped for the new role he took on in July.

At one point, one of his students called him to say he’d have to leave the program because his mother was kicking him out of the house. Thomas spent several hours setting up shelter for the boy, but also contacted the mother to broker a dialogue between her and her son.

"They were able to talk through their issues," Thomas said. "And he’s still in the program today.

"This program is a trailblazer," he added, noting that it was "like fireworks" when he launched the weekly student meet-ups. "Kids are coming out of the woodwork, and they’re excited."

For one thing, Thomas offers his students hope that productive doors can open as they increase their level of education.

"The economy has been my soapbox to keep them encouraged," Thomas said.

"A big part of it is mentoring these kids and helping them understand what it will take to get to graduation," Rosann said. "So we do a lot of expectation setting."

The software is set up so that every day when students log on, they see their individualized graduation goal, but right next to that are the number of assignments they personally need to accomplish that day.

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