Since late January, about 55 students at Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colo., have been heading to school when most of their classmates are preparing to go home.
They’re attending night school, a program primarily designed to help recent dropouts and seniors who are at risk of not graduating. Juniors who are behind in their coursework make up a small percentage of the students. Hinkley is the only school in the district to offer a night school program.
“We designed it with the intent to increase our graduation rate by offering another option for our students to get their diploma,” said Andre Bala, Hinkley’s night-school administrator.
Only about 60 percent of Hinkley students graduate, and the school hopes to raise that rate to 80 percent.
Students in the program attend school from 2:30 p.m. until 8 p.m.
“We have a lot of students who the traditional day school schedule just doesn’t work for them due to family obligations or they have jobs” said Bala. “They have to work to support the family.”
Aurora Public Schools is funding the program through a $50,000 grant, although the total cost is estimated to be around $150,000.
During the first hour, the students are broken up into two groups, and they learn about things such as relationship-building and postsecondary school preparedness. The students may also work with teachers during this time to assess their progress toward graduation.
Two certified teachers and two paraprofessionals work with the students in the program.
From 3:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. the students complete online coursework through Edgenuity.
The students are given two 15-minute breaks and 30 minutes for lunch, which they must provide.
Bala says the ultimate measurement of success will be the graduation rate of the participating students. But an early analysis shows the program is having success in the key area of attendance.
Students in the program have an average daily attendance rate of 86 percent, compared to 76 percent while they were attending traditional day school.
The school also plans to survey the students and their parents to determine their level of satisfaction with the program.
Bala has a real passion for helping students who are commonly labeled at-risk.
“I was one of those students who had trouble,” said Bala. “I was that kid, and I empathize with those students.”
He says he struggled to connect with teachers in elementary and middle school, got behind academically, and had some behavioral problems before caring teachers and coaches stepped in and helped him turn things around by the time he reached high school.
“Once I made those connections and realized that teachers are here to help me, and they’re here to support me, but I also have to make it my responsibility to advocate for myself in the classroom—once I figured that out—it literally changed my life,” said Bala.
It’s unclear if Hinkley’s night school program will extend beyond this term. Bela says that will come down to funding.
“Can we hire more staff?” he asked. “Can be we get more resources to sustain what we’re currently doing? The best way I know to sustain programs such as this is we have to be successful. We’re working diligently every day to help these students get back on track and graduate.”
Photo: Nadine Molina helps care for her five younger siblings. She also helps with her father’s construction business and works 20 hours a week. She was previously falling behind because of these many responsibilities, but she says night school has her back on track for graduation this year. (Andre Bala)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.