Jefferson Lara got into trouble soon after he started high school. His involvement in a gang fight while he was in ninth grade in Fairfax County knocked his plans askew. He was sent to a disciplinary program, spent a year with relatives in Peru and returned to Northern Virginia to stock grocery store shelves. His luck changed when he took auto repair classes and got a job offer from a Nissan dealer, but that wasn't going to happen unless he had a high school diploma.
So this year, the 18-year-old is enrolled in the Arlington Mill High School continuation program, an Arlington County initiative that offers not only classroom courses to help students get their degrees but also an online component that is becoming an increasingly important tool for educators to prevent students from dropping out.
By spending his school lunch periods in the Arlington Mill computer lab, Lara has nearly completed an online physics course; he'll take senior English online this spring. At the same time, he is also taking a handful of regular classes. The online courses will shorten the time it takes him to graduate.