"They all concentrate on what's best for us together," Haynes said. "It's very family oriented. We feel really close to them."
Teachers, too, say it works.
"I know the students a lot better, because I know the teachers who teach them," said 10th-grade English teacher Jenni Williams. "Everyone's on the same page, so it's not like you're alone in your mission."
That mission can be daunting. The majority of students who enter Baltimore Talent Development in ninth grade are reading at a fifth- or sixth-grade level.
To get caught up, students have 80-minute lessons in reading and math, instead of the typical 45 minutes. They also get additional time with specialists if needed.
The fact that kids are entering high schools with such poor literacy skills raises questions about how much catch-up work high schools can be expected to do and whether more pressure should be placed on middle schools and even elementary schools, say some high-school principals.
"We're at the end of the process," says Mel Riddile, principal of T.C. Williams High School, a large public school in Alexandria, Va. "People don't walk into 9th grade and suddenly have a reading problem."
Other challenges to high schools come from outside the school system. In high-poverty districts, some students believe it's more important to work than to stay in school, or they are lured away by gang activity or other kinds of peer or family pressure.
At Baltimore Talent Development, administrators try to set mini-milestones and celebrations for students so they stay motivated. These include more fashionable uniforms with each promotion to the next grade, pins for completing special programs and pizza parties to celebrate good attendance records.
"The kids are just starved for recognition and attention. Little social rewards matter to them," said Balfanz.
Balfanz says, however, that students understand the biggest reward they can collect is the piece of paper handed to them on graduation day.Without it, "there's not much work for you anymore," he said. "There's no way out of the cycle of poverty if you don't have a high school diploma."
Contributing: Laura Hancock, Deseret Morning News
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