Staff members at Boston's REC listen to each student's story, share struggles from their own school days, help them find the right school or alternative program to fit their needs, and stay in touch once they've reenrolled.
That's what won the trust of Quinones. In November she started coming every weekday to take online credit recovery courses at the REC, a bare-bones set of offices and computer labs with inspirational posters.
In just a month – keeping normal school hours, though that's not required – Quinones finished four courses and is on track to earn her diploma in February. Although she feels "stuck" in geometry, a teacher is on hand to guide her.
"In high school, teachers never really sat with me.... Having teachers take out their time ... to go through one problem for four hours, that means a lot," she says.
The REC "has expertly directed students toward options that are best suited to their needs, rather than falling into the habit of putting them back in the school where they were previously unsuccessful," says Chad d'Entremont, executive director of the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy in Cambridge, Mass.
Since 2010, the REC has re-enrolled more than 1,300 students. About 7 out of 10 persist for at least a year. The tracking system for the total number of graduates is still being developed, but at least 160 earned their diploma within about a year, Ms. Hamilton says, and she predicts many more will do so over a longer time frame.
Dropouts are a diverse and difficult group to get across the finish line. About 1 in 5 says he or she lacks parental support, and another fifth are parents themselves, according to the 2012 High School Dropouts in America survey by Harris Interactive. Other reasons for dropping out include mental illness, the need to work, too many school absences, and uninteresting classes. Some dropouts have spent time in prison or on the streets.