Shamira Gardner-Lee, 18, of Atlantic City, wants to graduate in June with her peers at Atlantic City High School.

But between transferring from Baltimore and spending time in the hospital because of diabetes, she fell behind in school and failed both Algebra II and English III. Now, she stays after school four days a week to make up those credits in the school’s Credit Recovery program so she can graduate on time.

“I’m working hard,” she said. “I’m not going to give up. I want to graduate.”

Credit Recovery is sort of like summer school, but it is held after school during the academic year. Atlantic City uses Plato, an online program, which allows students to work at their own pace. The district coordinated the program to match the high school curriculum, and teachers come in on a rotating shift to assist.

Now in its third year, the program started as a way to help seniors graduate on time but expanded this year to include juniors and sophomores.

“I was having way too many meetings with parents about how their children stumbled, then never caught back up,” school Principal Oscar Torres said. “This gives them a chance to get back on track.”

Credit Recovery programs are growing in popularity as high schools face increasing pressure to improve graduation rates and reduce dropout rates. A report by the Center for Public Education cited data showing credit recovery programs made up about $500 million of the $2 billion digital education market in 2010. But to date, there is little research on their effectiveness and no set model. Since most are run locally, each school sets its own requirements.

Math teacher Roger Booth, who coordinates the Credit Recovery program at Atlantic City High School, said the most common courses that have to be made up are algebra, history and English. Teachers reviewed the programs to make sure they aligned with what students learned in the regular classes. Students take a pre-test, then the program provides lessons focusing on their weaknesses.

Some students catch up quickly, while others take more time.

Torres said the program works best with students who failed just one or two classes that they could have passed had they applied themselves.

Booth, who teaches freshmen, said some students arrive at the high school very immature and not focused on school work, and that can affect their grades. If they do mature, Credit Recovery gives them a second chance to pass.

“A lot of these students are very smart,” he said. “But something happened in that one class and they failed it.”

The first year, the program focused on seniors, and 18 classes were recovered. The second year, 30 classes were recovered. This year, with the program expanded to include sophomores and juniors, Booth said 40 to 45 students are on track to complete courses out of about 100 who enrolled.

Those extra students could improve the school’s graduation rate enough to meet its state target of 75 percent and move it out of the state’s designation as a focus school in need of improvement. The graduation rate has been edging up, from 68 percent in 2011 to 70 percent in 2012. But that still places it in the bottom 13th percentile statewide, according to its state School Performance Report.

Credit Recovery is held from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Some students stay for only an hour so they can catch the late bus. The school also provides NJ Transit passes. Others leave but come back to work for a couple of hours. Some come a couple times a week, while others are there almost every day.

“The seniors are very determined because they want to graduate,” Booth said.

Gardner-Lee wants to attend the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College and hopes to one day open a restaurant that caters to diabetics. She has just about finished her English courses and is halfway through algebra.

She said it is different than a regular class because she can work at her own pace.

“But there are teachers here, and they’ll help,” she said.

Students in the English class are required to write three papers in addition to the online work because that’s something they would have done in the regular class.

“They have to be self-directed and motivated,” said English teacher Nancy Didriksen, who works with the students. “A lot of students failed classes their freshman year because they just didn’t take school seriously. This is a second chance, and they do appreciate it.”

Daniel Blanchard, 17, of Atlantic City, should be a junior but still has sophomore status because of a failed English course. If he passes it in Credit Recovery, he can get a senior ID next year and participate in senior activities.

“I just got lazy the first time,” he admitted. “But I want to go to college.”

Senior Tatiana Rodriguez, 17, of Atlantic City, is struggling to get through geometry.

“It’s still hard, but I want to graduate” she said. She said she participates three days a week and tries to stay the entire three hours.

Booth said some students will spend more time taking the Credit Recovery course than they would have spent sitting in a regular class. He has heard concerns that online Credit Recovery programs are just an easy path to graduation, but he said teachers do not want their program to get that reputation. They want students to earn that second chance, not have it handed to them.

“The bottom line is they have to pass,” Booth said. “Our goal is that they learn, not just make up credits. I think it’s pretty challenging here.”

Contact Diane D’Amico:

609-272-7241