Ten percent of adults over the age of 25 do not have a high school diploma. And while that number is dropping, down from 16% pre-2000s, there are a lot of limitations for people who do not have a diploma from a WASC accredited institution. To bridge that gap, the San Joaquin Office of Education launched Comeback Kids, an accredited program for individuals 18 and over who still need a high school diploma.
Comeback Kids started in the 2017-2018 school year, modeled off of a similar program in Riverside. Originally, there were three teachers within the program. Five years later, the teacher count has grown to 22 with 630 students enrolled in the 2022-2023 academic year across nine sites from Tracy to Lodi.
At Comeback Kids, students aren’t just getting their diploma, they are preparing for their future. The program caters to student needs with flexible hours and career training. “Every single one has a different need,” Doug McCreath, the SJCOE director who oversees the program, says of students. Some need to complete just a few classes while others need to take the entire four years of instruction. In the end, the diploma received is no different than a diploma from any other regional high school.
Buildings are open 8:30 AM-5 PM Monday through Friday so students can come in and meet with their teachers or use the common spaces to study and finish homework as needed. Every student in the program also has to identify a career goal. The teachers then not only work through the high school curriculum, but also get students set up with next steps to college, trade school, or a specific job.
Aside from meeting a minimum of twice per week with teachers for an hour, there aren’t a lot of attendance requirements. “That’s why it’s so successful,” Doug says of Comeback Kids. “Because we pace it for [students].” And with an average age of 32, most students are working adults who thrive with flexibility.
Another focus of Comeback Kids is on technology skills. Older students in their 50s often come in with very little tech knowledge, according to Doug. Chromebooks are provided and every student has to complete a Google slide portfolio upon exiting the program. “It’s really cool when you see someone who is 50 years old…. running a touchscreen promethium board.”
Every year, Comeback Kids graduates approximately 200 students. To date, the youngest graduate was 18 and the oldest graduate was 64.