Charles Perkins, 18, was released from the Bridge drug-rehabilitation center just in time to be crowned prom king at Shallcross School's senior prom.

"I was at [at the Bridge] for three months, and my school still was involved," said Perkins, who was placed in Shallcross during 11th grade after being caught with a gun in Frankford High School. "I did all my work [and] my senior project up there, and three weeks before graduation, Shallcross still accepted me back in the school."

Shallcross, in Northeast Philadelphia, is one of three schools run by Camelot Schools, including Excel Academy in the Northeast and Daniel Boone School in North Philadelphia, that serve students who are in jeopardy of dropping out or who have disciplinary issues.

Of the 185 students in Camelot's class of 2009, 153 students - or 83 percent - have been accepted into postsecondary programs. Eighty of them plan to attend technical schools and 73 plan to attend college.

Perkins, who lives in North Philadelphia, said staff involvement and strict rules at Shallcross helped him to excel and graduate. He will attend Pennsylvania's Lincoln University in the fall and major in business and marketing. He hopes to eventually become an event promoter or business owner.

"A whole lot of teachers [at Shallcross], they've been on my back to try and keep me in school," Perkins said.

"That school really helped my son," agreed his mother, Lenora Crawford. "My son was on his way to jail."

Other students echoed the feelings about the schools' support.

Dominicke Whittington, 19, graduated from Boone yesterday. He was transferred there from Germantown High after "getting into the wrong crowd," he said, and encountering trouble with truancy.

"Basically they took away some of your freedom, and you had to earn it back. And that's what I did," said Whittington, who will begin studying to become an electrician at the CHI Institute next month. "That school helped me turn over my life. I did things that I couldn't do at my other schools."

Seth Williams, Democratic candidate for district attorney, gave the commencement speech at yesterday's ceremony, at the University of Pennsylvania's Irvine Auditorium. He spoke of his own academic struggles and told students to keep dreaming.

"We're not judged by our failure," he said, "but by our ability to pick ourselves up off the floor."

John Harcourt, chief executive officer of Camelot Schools, became emotional while speaking about the graduating class.

"These are a bunch of kids who had no hope. Now take a look at how many are going on to postsecondary education," he said.

Perkins said he's fortunate he was able to keep his grades up and be accepted at a college.

"I really felt as though I wasn't gonna make it," Perkins said. "But I just think it's a waste of time for somebody in their 12th-grade year to stop going. We all came this far." *