Kelly Tachiquin was sinking fast.
She'd bounced back and forth between Enochs High School and the Elliott Alternative Education Center, falling far behind in the pursuit of credits she'll need to graduate on time in the spring of 2010.
The conventional classroom setting didn't work for her, just as it doesn't for many others.
In August, though -- on a school counselor's recommendation -- Kelly enrolled in the AdvancePath Academy at Beyer High School, which started this school year.
Through the program, which targets students who have dropped out or are headed toward it, she attends classes in a room that more closely resembles a back-office call center. Her "classroom" is really a tiny cubicle -- one of about 60 in the academy -- and her teacher is a computer program. By finishing this school year and by taking summer school classes in 2009, she should be back on track to graduate on time.
"I want to be an RN (registered nurse)," said the 16-year-old, who, a year ago, hadn't given a profession much thought.
AdvancePath represents a new way of teaching for Modesto City Schools. The program taps into the very interest many students share, struggling or not. The courses are taught almost entirely on computers and at the students' pace. Real-live teachers Bryan Rogers and Elizabeth Anderson monitor students' progress and shore up their weaknesses during one-on-one sessions.
Students can retake tests and quizzes as many times as necessary before moving on to the next level. They must score at least 80 percent to pass.
"We set the bar a bit higher," said Rogers, who can electronically monitor the amount of time a student spends studying or taking a quiz or test.
The academy at Beyer is only the eighth of its kind that AdvancePath has established in California, said John Murray, chief executive officer of the company involved in a public-private partnership with Modesto City Schools. AdvancePath provides the computers, software, curriculum and workstations at a cost of about $300,000. Modesto City Schools provides the teachers and classroom space. AdvancePath gets 95 percent of the average daily attendance money that normally would go to the district, but reimburses Modesto City Schools for the teachers' salaries.
The district's enrollment is in a decline, down about 250 students from last year, according to Dennis Snelling, director of business services. Keeping at-risk students in school will slow that decline, he said.
The financial gamble belongs to AdvancePath -- not to the district, Murray said.
"Normally, when the kids don't show, they (the districts) don't get paid (by the state)," he said. "Here, we take the risk. We've invested the money in equipment costs. We put all the pieces together."
If the program doesn't captivate the students, and they don't attend classes, his company loses. Elsewhere, he said, it's been successful. The national high school graduation rate is about 70 percent, he said. AdvancePath's students come from those who would figure in the 30 percent headed toward dropping out.
About 90 percent of the program's at-risk students are on pace to catch up on their credits, and the success rate is the same for those who returned to school with hopes of graduating by the time they're 20, he said.
Early returns among Beyer students are solid. Students are split into two groups -- 60 attending morning classes, the other 60 in the afternoon. There are 55 names on a waiting list that gives lead teacher Anderson some leverage over those who don't want to improve. There's always someone waiting to take their cubicles.
"I just had that talk with three students," she said.
Josh Lycan was not one of them. In just six weeks, he's completed four courses and is on the verge of completing a fifth.
Chris Robinson, a 17-year-old junior, fell behind in credits in Oakland before moving to Modesto.
"I like the flexibility," Chris said. "The teachers aren't down your throat. It's not a threatening environment at all. I like these good ol' four-hour classes."
Rafael Ramos said the pace suits him perfectly. As a student in Modesto High's International Baccalaureate program, he simply didn't thrive in the competitive academic environment.
"I never liked to work that hard," he said. "I enjoyed the lessons they gave us. I listened and I participated. But when it came to the work, that's where I fell short."
He's now at Beyer. Like many of his academy mates who blew off their responsibilities while in the conventional classrooms, he is thriving in the AdvancePath setting.
"I can focus on a single subject at a time, and that is better for me," he said.
He plans to become a licensed vocational nurse in order to work his way through a four-year college.
Most important, he's on schedule to graduate on time. He should be able to complete his end of the deal he and his classmates made with Modesto City Schools Superintendent Arturo Flores.
"See you at the graduation line," Flores said.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.