When Paloma Ramos dropped out of school in 2014, she was already a year behind her classmates at Southwest Early College Campus.
Ramos had a plan, though. She would take online classes through the Missouri Options Program, catch up with her peers and graduate within six months. Only that didn’t end up happening.
Ramos’ progress stalled. A year and a half later, she still hadn’t graduated. She tried enrolling in Job Corps, a U.S. Department of Labor program that connects young people with work training. At 21, she figured her only option would be to take the high school equivalency exam.
Then she found out about the Kansas City Public Schools Middle College Program, a new partnership with Metropolitan Community College that lets high school dropouts finish their degrees at Penn Valley.
“I came back to school because I didn't want a GED,” Ramos says. “I wanted to still have a chance at my high school diploma.”
Students who enroll in the Middle College Program only have to take the classes they haven’t passed. For Ramos, that was math. Every day this winter, she came to Penn Valley to get help with her coursework.
“It’s a really good feeling to have teachers care for you, texting you every night and every morning to make sure you have everything ready for the next day for school,” Ramos says.
KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell says he doesn’t think it makes sense to send dropouts back to their home schools.
“To then go back and put them back in the same conditions that caused them to drop out or to become disengaged is to me a tragedy, and we see it happening over and over,” Bedell says.
The Middle College Program also provides a pathway for older students, like Ramos, to enroll at Penn Valley once they’ve finished their high school coursework. In fact, if Ramos scores just a few points higher on her math test, she’ll get a two-year community college scholarship.
“I've been really thinking about business management,” Ramos says, grinning. “I think that’d be a good move because I’m a people person. I like to make sure everyone gets the customer service they deserve.”
Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.