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New school gives Clark County dropouts another chance at diploma

Students who have dropped out of Clark County high schools can earn their diplomas after all through a new program that allows them to make up missing credits at their own pace.

Acceleration Academy, which opened this fall in Las Vegas, is free for students up to the age of 21, or 22 for special education students.

“Our target student is one who dropped out, who gave up, who may be reluctant to learn in a traditional environment,” said Randy Pagel, director of the Nevada program. “We have an opportunity to help them.”

So-called “graduation candidates” can drop by the school’s open-plan office space anytime during operating hours to complete their mandatory 12 hours per week of on-campus time. They also spend an additional 12 hours working remotely on video lectures, essays and projects.

Students take one class at a time, and their progress is tracked: they need to complete approximately 10 percent of the material each time they’re on campus in order to progress, according to graduation candidate adviser Robert Taylor.

Pagel said that an advantage of the school compared to a strictly online program is that students have access to on-site teachers — known as as content coaches — as well as advisers like Taylor who help them stay on track.

“They’re very receptive when they understand they’re in control,” Taylor said. “I am not an authority figure. I am just someone who’s here to help.”

Students typically spend one month on each course, according to Taylor.

The school is part of a Chicago-based, for-profit chain with locations in Florida, South Carolina and Washington. It’s contracted with the school district, which will take 10 percent of the state funds earmarked for each student who dropped out and then re-enrolled in Acceleration Academy. The school district is also expected to provide Acceleration Academy with names and contact information for students who have withdrawn, dropped out or not enrolled for at least one semester.

Pagel said that any students currently enrolled in traditional high schools who want to transfer to Acceleration Academy would first need to be approved by their principals and then processed through the district’s central office. So far, the school has relied on marketing efforts and CCSD attendance officers going door-to-door to recruit former students for the school, Pagel said.

As a former principal of Sunset East High School, Pagel said that every dropout is painful, not only for the student, but for the teachers and administrators who have invested time working with that student.

The dropout rate at CCSD is approximately 3.7 percent, according to state data.

“We’re not talking about the straight-A student who can go out and get a tutor here,” Pagel said. “Even if they’re out two or three days, they may never catch up, and that’s how you get a dropout.”

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at aappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0218. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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