Library offering second chances

Pam Monson

Career Online High School gives adults a shot at a diploma

    Every year, the Wilmington Public Library District tries to offer one new, innovative thing it didn’t offer the year before. This year, the library is offering adults a second chance to get a real high school diploma and get ready for a career.
    Residents who were unable to complete high school have an opportunity to obtain a diploma through Career Online High School, an accredited high school that issues an actual diploma. The diploma carries more weight in the job market than a GED certification, and is more widely accepted by institutions of higher learning, explained Maria Meachum, library director.
    “We consider a high school diploma essential,” she explained.     “When you look at what a dropout actually costs the community through their use of social services, resources; they’re unemployed, they’re hard to employ, maybe they’re on food stamps or welfare. Just graduating high school you make more than a non-graduate, and a college graduate makes more than a high school graduate. The more [education] you get the better your lifetime earning is and the less likely you are to be a drain on society and more of an asset.”
    Helping adults get their high school diplomas goes hand-in-hand with the library’s mission of making the community stronger and better through education.
    “It’s now just built in to our job description, that one of the things libraries do is help the unemployed find employment. We have found that the obstacles aren’t just that, ‘I can’t get to a job,’ but that ‘I can’t even meet the minimum requirement, which is a high school diploma,’” Meachum commented.
    The library staff recognized that addition to their job description several years ago, and worked with the Men’s Club of the First United Methodist Church to get people to the GED program in Joliet and tutoring. Meachum believes the men are still engaged in that effort.
    Career Online High School is different from the GED program in that it’s self paced and can be completed from home at any hour of the day, or at the library. Students can also transfer in their existing high school credits, so they aren’t necessarily starting at the beginning. Although students have 18 months to complete the program, many finish in much less time, some in as little as five months.
    Career Online High School offers eight areas of career study that help students prepare for a career, such as office management, commercial driving and homeland security. The curriculum includes language arts, math, social studies, science and electives in the student’s chosen career focus.
    The library district is offering five scholarships to the online high school, and will assume the cost of offering them, $6,000. This price was made possible by the Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS) and Gale, a Cengage Company.  The participants have to be residents of the district,  21 or older, have a library card and go through an in-depth screening that begins with an online self assessment.
    After that, they use their library card to enroll in part one of the program, a two-week pre-requisite course for the career they would like to pursue. Upon completion of the pre-requisite course, the library staff will conduct an interview that will determine if the applicant will be awarded a scholarship. Completing the pre-requisite course qualifies the applicant for scholarship application, but does not guarantee award or enrollment.
    The student has to show a strong interest in getting their diploma to get into the program.
    “They have to have learned that they’re not going to make it without a high school diploma. ‘This is what life looks like without a high school diploma,’ and they have to live the pain of it before they get committed ... At that point they’ve kind of decided they need to get back to their original plan, and the one that works. The one that works is obtaining the certifications that they need to get the jobs that feed them, house them and can support them,” Meachum said.
    Participants are assigned an academic coach who supports them during the program.
    “This to me is a second chance. This is us giving a second chance. The high school cannot do this for people over 21, and that’s why we’re picking it up,” Meachum said.
    “We are very excited to be able to offer this program to our community as we think it is a great opportunity for adults to finish their high school education as well as to become career and college ready,” commented Carolyn Healy, the district’s adult services manager, who is in charge of the program.
    One district resident is already in the self-assessment, and the library director thinks the district will have its first student soon. She is looking forward to hosting a graduation ceremony, with caps, gowns and a celebratory cake.
    For more information about the program, please contact Healy at the library, 815-476-2834.