FARMINGTON — The average graduation rate for San Juan County alternative high schools was 34.4 percent, according to updated high school graduation rates released by the state education department in January. And Rocinante High School Principal Bob Rank was excited about his school's 36.1 percent graduation rate.

"At 36 (percent), I'm jumping up and down," Rank said.

Rocinante, Vista Nueva, Career Prep and Charlie Y. Brown are the alternative high schools for the Aztec, Bloomfield, Central Consolidated and Farmington school districts, where they fill many roles to keep at-risk students on the path to graduation, even if it takes an extra year or two.

The figures released by the New Mexico Public Education Department on Jan. 31 were for the group of high school students enrolled for one or more semesters during the four-year period ending with the 2012-2013 school year. Each year, the state education department releases figures for four-, five- and six-year graduation rates for the group of students included in that four-year period.

Part of the mission for Rocinante and other alternative high schools is to help at-risk students who, for a myriad of reasons, were struggling academically and needed additional attention to receive their diplomas.

Rank said few of the 177 students enrolled at Rocinante will graduate in four years.

"We'll have about 15 kids a year that are older than 20 (years-old) who are coming back to finish their degree," Rank said. "There's hardly a code to cover them anymore."

The class makeup for Rocinante is about 93 seniors, 37 juniors with the remaining 37 students split between freshman and sophomores.

Rocinante is a community-based alternative high school which operates 50 out of the 52 weeks a year. It is open during the school year from 8:15 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., even on some Saturdays, offering a number of programs designed to benefit students across the district.

Rocinante High School freshman Jaspar Alaverado drives in the San Juan College truck driving simulator on Thursday during Career Day at Rocinante High
Rocinante High School freshman Jaspar Alaverado drives in the San Juan College truck driving simulator on Thursday during Career Day at Rocinante High School. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

In addition to operating as a high school for the 177 enrolled students, Rocinante operates on an accelerated schedule that allows four school terms to be completed in one school year instead of the two that are possible at Farmington or Piedra Vista high schools.

Farmington and Piedra Vista students also benefit from Rocinante operating as the district's credit recovery after school has ended for the day. Credit recovery is for students who are falling behind in the credits they need to graduate on time because they failed a class or classes. They can make up missing credits after school at Rocinante.

Using a method called "Blended Learning," three faculty members from across the district provide assistance to about 100 students at any time while students use a computer program for credit recovery.

Rank said during the course of a school year, about 1,000 to 1,200 students will go through the credit recovery program with nearly 800 of them from Farmington or Piedra Vista high schools.

Rocinante student Erika Rojas said she felt sad about graduating in May because she was leaving behind a generous faculty without which she would not have been able to graduate.

"It's like a family here," Rojas said. "No one here is judging you."

Rojas is currently pregnant with her second child and has worked at the Si Señor Mexican restaurant for nearly three years while trying to complete high school.

"I've been having little troubles because of the pregnancy, but I want to be here and do everything," Rojas said. "I'm just really happy and really happy they gave me a chance to be here."

Student Ethan Brown said it was important for him to graduate so he could support his 2-year-old son Sucre Brown after dropping out of Rocinante in spring 2013.

"I was missing a lot of school due to personal problems," Brown said. "What really motivated me was my son ... I'm going to be supporting him in the future and the best thing I could (do) was get my education and get straightened out."

Brown said Rocinante staff helped him get back in school and despite the amount of paperwork, he didn't feel hassled at all.

"Everybody is like one unit. Knowing you are not going to be judged for who you are and what you do, it's great," Brown said. "I never really got an experience like that, I never thought there would be any schools that did that for me."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @jkelloggdt.