Twenty-eight "Back on Track" summer school students graduated from high school on Tuesday.

"It's a pretty intense four weeks," summer school program coordinator Barb Dexter said. "The result is something that changes your life."

"It's wonderful to see all these students," Director Communications and Community Engagement at Anchorage School District Catherine Esary said. "This year, we have almost double the number of students that graduated from summer school last year."

The students' success is the goal of a partnership of United Way of Anchorage, the Anchorage School District and Covenant House Alaska. The program is called the Back on Track program. Its goal is to raise the Anchorage high school graduation rate to 90 percent in two years.

"I'm really proud of them," Dexter said. "We've been pushing and consoling. It's hard work and our days run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and there is no hour lunch break. There is a half-hour lunch break and the students can't leave campus. Students who are not used to working that kind of schedule are shocked and they work hard. Some classes have homework so the students are working overnight."

A total of 41 students earned their diplomas through the summer program from different schools and programs throughout the Anchorage School District.

"We are a collaboration," Dexter said. "Not only with the Back on Track program but with migrant education and Title I with the school district. We also have students with AVAIL, SAVE and AMCS." 

Students in the summer program are there because they want to be there. They understand the importance of gaining their diploma-- whether they need just a few credits or need to make up a whole semester.

"That's all I really wanted to do," senior Kayla Ongtowasruk said. "Get high school done and over with. It's a sigh of relief, for sure. It's nice to be able to sit back and relax and not think about work."

Kayla says she was more excited knowing she had passed her final exam than for graduation day.

"Just knowing I was done meant a lot," Kayla said. "Today, I'm more excited about eating after the ceremony. My mom and her boyfriend made smoked pork sandwiches with potato salad and homemade cheesecake. I'm more excited about the cheesecake than anything."

Jacob Polleck also has plans after graduation, his revolve more around technology than food.

"Well, I want to get a career in the I.T. field, and I need a high school diploma first," Polleck said. "I missed a lot of school because of medical issues. I've had some pretty bad migraines and nearly missed this program, too. In fact, yesterday I was in the ER with a migraine."

Now, with his diploma in hand, Jacob is ready to head south. 

"It's relieving, I just wanted to be done," Polleck said. "I'm looking at college now. Clark College down in Washington state."

The students’ celebration with family and friends marks another milestone for Back on Track, which during the past two school years, has helped struggling Anchorage high school students stay in school and graduate.

In the program’s two years-- including Tuesday's graduates-- 141 students at risk of not graduating have earned their diplomas through the Back on Track program. 

The program, with major funding from an AT&T Aspire grant, United Way, the school district and BP, identifies students at risk of not graduating due to failing grades, absence, unfinished coursework, family issues, income, substance abuse or homelessness. Most are low income, and many are in the school district’s Child-in-Transition program for students classified as homeless. The program provides credit recovery support in day, night and summer schools, and guides students to “wraparound” services -- transportation, food stamps, clothing, counseling, glasses, job help -- whatever the student needs to focus on earning the diploma. Students must do the work. If they have the will, Back on Track helps to find a way.

For more information on the program, click here

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