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'Back On Track' Puts South Jersey Students Working To Turn Their Lives Around In The Spotlight

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CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — South Jersey students were in the spotlight Monday, and rightfully so. A special group of young men and women were honored during a "Back On Track" luncheon at Rutgers-Camden campus, and it was a celebration of second chances for the students who are working to turn their lives around.

Stanza Terry is an 11th-grade student who veered off the right path academically, but with the help of the Back On Track Scholars Program, she received the help she needed to succeed, both academically and personally.

Terry is now headed for graduation next year.

"I got off track," Terry said. "I got my head right and they're celebrating me now. I'm more focused now, really more on top of my work now. Really studying more, making sure I'm good academically."

Thirty-one of Camden's most improved students were honored at the luncheon for recommitting to achieving their high school diploma. The district, through a data-driven system, was able to target students at risk of falling behind.

These students receive extra coaching and support from school and community leaders, and on Monday, they were honored for their hard work and progress.

"We meet them where they are," said Melissa Herder, a teacher. "We try to help them in many ways. Sometimes we can be an extra shoulder to cry on, another sort of parent-type person, a mentor. We guide them."

There's pride and gratitude in every name called.

Stanza Terry. (Credit: CBS3)

"It's really big," Terry said. "I've never really won an award. It's really exciting."

Camden Mayor Frank Moran said that educating children in a traditional setting isn't the case for every student.

"We need to definitely reach out to the ones who are kind of teetering on leaving school," said Moran. "And really extend a hand and let them know we're here to walk you through."

Each student left Monday's luncheon with a renewed focus on learning and achieving a brighter future.

"I'm just thankful that I have people that believe in me and encourages me to do the right thing in school," said student Terronda Gibson.

Since the state intervention Camden city schools began in 2013, the district's graduation rate has risen from 49 percent to 69 percent and the dropout rate has been cut in half.

District officials believe programs like the Back On Track Scholars Program are working.

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