SIKESTON, Mo. -- In 2011, Sikeston High School had one of the region's highest graduation rates at 92.7 percent compared to the state average of 86.7 percent, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
It compared favorably to other large districts in the region. Other high schools with over 90 percent graduation rates included Jackson, Bell City and Richland. Portageville, Oran and Chaffee high schools each had a 100 percent rate. Those rates include students who took more than four years to graduate.
Sikeston High School principal Tom Williams said a major factor in Sikeston's rate is the district's alternative school, New Horizons School.
"Kids who don't necessarily work well in the large school environment are able to go there and work much more effectively in a small, group environment," Williams said.
Lynn Crader, principal at New Horizons, said the alternative school will graduate 30 of this year's more than 200 students who received their diplomas.
At the alternative center, staff try to better understand students' situations.
"A lot of students have children of their own so it might slow them down in earning their diplomas. But 20 years from now, it doesn't matter if they graduate one year from the next. What matters is that you graduate," Crader said.
Many of the students at New Horizons are referred by their high school counselors after struggling, Crader said.
"They're not made to come here, but if they think it's something they need to try, it's a choice," Crader said.
The learning environment is much smaller with 12 to 15 students in a class rather than the 20 to 30 at the high school.
Some students have to work a job to help support their family, Crader said, and New Horizons can work classes around the student's work schedule by having them attend school in the mornings.
"I'd rather see them have success and take two classes instead of eight and fail them all," Crader said.
School districts across the state often come to New Horizons to look at the program in place, Crader said.
"What the community probably doesn't understand is they don't know how good we are, and think we have bars on the windows, but we have a bunch of good kids," he said.
Since its first graduating class in 2004, New Horizons has helped 344 students -- including in the 2012 class -- receive their high school diplomas.