In an all-out effort to keep students in school, a fast-food chain is financing ways to help them find their way to graduation.
Horizons Academy, which opened in January at Monroe Junior High School, is a school within a school. It combines counseling, small classes, individual instruction and field trips for students identified as potential dropouts.
Burger King has provided $40,000 to get the school started, according to Hillsborough Education Foundation officials, and is pledging another $15,000 for each year it continues.
"It's a gutsy program," said Terry Boehm, executive director of the foundation, which is a co-sponsor of the school. "It's saying, "Let's try to zero in on some of those special needs we have.'
Horizon is the first school in Hillsborough developed under the Cities in Schools program, which encourages corporate sponsorship of dropout prevention programs. The schools have 60 students, all with problems. Some were failing courses or seldom attending school. Others were disruptive.
Chris Gordon, a seventh-grader, said he failed last year. This year, he is working on seventh- and eighth-grade work to catch up _ and doing so while making the honor roll. Last year, his biggest problem was math, but that has changed.
"I've got an A in that now," he said.
The program is active in other parts of the state, and there are 26 other Burger King academies in the Cities in Schools program.
The program started here two years ago when two of Monroe's teachers, Susie McCarter and Susan Fuller, decided to try to bring it to Hillsborough.
Now, corporate money allows the students to take field trips and use equipment that the school system could not afford. It also provides for smaller classes, individualized instruction and counseling.
The program encourages family-style support, which backers say is especially important.
"For some of our kids, the closest thing they come to as a family is school," Boehm said. "They have to know there's a place for them.
. They have to know they can come to this place and be a better person when they leave."
Harvelyn Glymph, an aide for an eighth-grade class, called the students her babies as she hugged and joked with several boys at the school's open house Friday.
"Jessie's very good at basketball," she said, smiling at student Jessie Burden and adding, "Wish he were better at math."
"He chews gum in the most unique ways," Glymph said of Travis Thomas, "and I always catch him."
Several students at the school's open house said they were doing far better than they had done in regular school.
Much of that revolves around the way teachers treat them in the academy. Said seventh-grader Juan Martinez: "They make you feel like you're somebody."
Glymph said the goals of the school are simple: Graduation from school for those who were in danger of quitting.
"We want them to make it," she said, "so they can come back in six years and say, "I made it.' "