Fairfax County Public Schools Launches Flexible Twilight School Program to Help Seniors Graduate on Time

By Office of Communication and Community Relations
May 25, 2023

For some seniors, whether they graduate or not comes down to a tough reality - attending school or helping support their family.

That is the situation West Potomac High School senior Madelyn found themselves in late last year. With the responsibility of a younger sibling to take care of, her schoolwork became less of a priority.

To help Madelyn and others like them, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) began a pilot program this Spring to provide instruction outside of traditional school hours for students at six high schools across the division.

Hands typing on a laptop
Students in the pilot program have a little more flexibility with their studies, attending class in the afternoon. 

Currently, ninety seniors, who were not on track to graduate with their class, are working towards obtaining the credits they need to make that happen.

They meet with teachers in-person three days a week from 4-6 p.m. and work independently from home for the remaining two days.

“These students are facing difficult times that none of us can even imagine having to manage at a school age,” said Joe Thompson, Special Projects Administrator for the Non-Traditional Schools and Programs who oversees the pilot.

“For example, they can be responsible for sibling child care, for financially supporting their family as the primary wage earner, and there can be transportation issues that hinder attendance.

“The smaller setting, the flexible setting, the one-on-one aspect, has really given these students the support they need to succeed.”

Herndon High School teacher Richard Cupolo teaches his Twilight Program students in the late afternoon
Herndon High School teacher Richard Cupolo teaches his Twilight Program students in the late afternoon

The pilot began earlier this year at the following schools and one center:

Students who need credit accrual or recovery in order to graduate are identified by their school counselors and given the option of switching to the program.

Things are now looking up for Madelyn who is back on track to graduate this year.

Dora Yarbrough Howard and Joshua Headen teach their class.
Dora Yarbrough Howard and Joshua Headen are committed to getting their class to graduation

“I sometimes have to take care of my younger brother during the school day on behalf of my parents who both work. I don’t have to worry about this class that I need to pass to graduate during the school day, but just focus on it after school. 

“I was so stressed because I knew I was failing a class I needed to graduate. Joining the program was like a second chance and brought so much relief to me.”

One of the benefits is that students are able to stay connected to their base school. Seniors attend class in person at their neighborhood school, rather than travel to an unfamiliar setting.

So far, the program has been going well, with one student already having completed the credits they needed and the hope is that all those enrolled will walk across the stage with their graduating class. According to Thompson, the cohort is overwhelmingly engaged, determined and performing well academically.

Head of the program, Joe Thompson pictured at a previous year's graduation

Joe Thompson, Special Projects Administrator for the Non-Traditional Schools and Programs oversees the pilot.

“There is something special about seeing the underdog succeed. You have a student who has written themselves off, now seeing that they have the same capabilities as others but just needed a different setting to allow them to thrive, he said.

“When you see those students succeeding after desperately working towards a diploma, it's a different kind of reward for a teacher. It’s pretty cool.”

At the end of the school year, the pilot will be assessed and if successful, it may be expanded to more high schools.

The Twilight Program is just one of several alternative programs to accommodate students for whom the traditional classroom is not a good fit.