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SFPL Online High School offers diploma as path to higher education

Thu, 06 Apr 2017 13:55:00
Article by:
Rebecca Duran
[Left to right]: Michelle Jeffers of Community Programs at SFPL, with City Librarian Luis Herrera and Media Contact Katherine Jardine. Photo courtesy of SFPL.
For those who did not get the opportunity to complete high school, there is still a chance to receive their high school diploma through the Career Online High School program at the San Francisco Public Library — SFPL.
    
The program was first developed in 2012 through a partnership with Cengage — an education and technology company — and Smart Horizons Career Online, according to Leigh Ann Cusack, the senior director at Gale for public and consortia products.
    
The 18-credit program was adapted for the public library market by Gale, a Cengage company, in 2014, and was added to the San Francisco Public Library in June 2015.
    
It is funded by the California State Library and Gov. Jerry Brown, and individual libraries receive funding from the state library to provide it for free to qualifying residents, according to Cusack.
    
The San Francisco Public Library staff took the opportunity to offer the program after being approached by Gale-Cengage and having a meeting with program creator Howard Lieman, said Laura Lent, chief of Collections and Technical Services.
    
“The library is sort of the ultimate resource for people who want to learn on their own and who may not feel comfortable in a school-type institutional setting,” Lent said. “That may be why they didn't graduate from school in the first place. So, the idea that we can provide that through a library, where our focus is on individual learning, was very appealing.”
    
The staff, she added, felt a great need for the program as opposed to one that offered a GED certificate, because the high school diploma is still required for many jobs.
    
With no traditional instructors, courses take place with audio over a slide, and students who are in communication with an academic coach, according to Bridge Program Manager, Katherine Eppler.
    
Applicants must be at least 19 years old, have successfully completed 8th grade, be a California resident, and have an SFPL library card, according to Cusack.
    
Prior to being enrolled, prospective students need to go to www.sfpl.org/cohs, which includes the link to the two-week prerequisite course.
    
The prerequisite ensures they have the proper computer skills and the ability to learn in an online education environment, and that they have at least an 8th-grade educational level, Lent said.
    
The library then schedules the scholarship interview, which, upon acceptance, makes it free to enroll.
    
The program takes roughly 18 months to finish, but if a student transfers the maximum amount of credits from previous high school work, it can take four months to complete, Eppler said.
    
The different career certificates offered are Child Care and Education, Certified Protection Officer, Certified Commercial Driving, Office Management, Homeland Security, General Career Prep, Retail/Customer Service Skills, and Food and Hospitality Skills.
    
The most popular major, Eppler added, is general career prep.
    
Receiving a high school diploma is the first step for the students who are happy with their careers, but would like to advance further. .
   
“The library does everything we can to support our student,” Eppler said. “We call and see how they're doing. We're offering a mass-help drop in on every other Friday at noon. Which we hope our students will take advantage of if they need it. We're looking forward to enrolling more students. We have scholarship seats available.”
    
The library is also able to lend a laptop with a MiFi to certain students, so that they would have internet access at home while enrolled in the program, Lent said.
    
State certified COHS instructors and academic coaches are assigned to help the students. These are mostly located in Florida, where Smart Horizons is based, according to Cusack.
    
The program’s mission of instilling hope, motivating students, and giving them an opportunity influenced Kristen Nicholson in becoming a program instructor.
    
Nicholson became an academic coach in May, after learning about the opportunity from a program contact while working at a state college.
   
She works with several libraries for the online high school, including the Sacramento Public Library, and she describes the position as one with multiple roles.
    
“It's like a job with many hats,” Nicholson said. “We're kind of, in a sense, a cheerleader for the students. We're the folks who support students and root for them, provide them hope and inspiration, especially when they get frustrated.”
    
Another role is ensuring the students are on track for success and making sure they're meeting certain deadlines by addressing any struggles or issues they're having.
    
Additionally, the virtual platform allows Nicholson to reach a number of students throughout the day via phone. “It's ideal for our students because a lot of them are working, have families — don't have the time or the resources to sit in a traditional classroom, “she said. So, it works out really well for them.”
    
So far, three people have graduated and roughly three dozen students are currently enrolled, who Lent said tend to be middle-aged folks working full-time and looking to fit the course into their schedule.
    
Kevin Surles, a graduate of the program, was motivated to join after seeing a flier on a bulletin board while at work. During his previous high school career, he was only a couple credits away from graduating when he committed to joining the U.S. Marine Corps, but had since reached a place in his life where he wanted to further his education.
   
“I've always had a desire, but, you know how things happen,” Surles said. “You get married, have children, time just flies. You're just involved with living life. You just neglected the things you desired to do. I wanted to go back, and I wanted to start there because I'm enrolled in City College right now. I want to go on and get my degree.”
    
Surles enrolled in May 2016, was selected for the tuition scholarship, and completed the program with an office management certificate in September.
    
While the experience of not having traditional teachers was different, Surles said having the support during the online courses was positive. “I would describe the experience as really supportive,” he said. “Very clear and concise. It was well-planned out. I feel like the library, the program was really there to help you and to support you in achieving that diploma.”
    
While Surles’ goal to enroll in college after his job, another graduate was offered a job with the City and County of San Francisco, an opportunity directly related to completing the program and receiving the high school diploma, Lent said.
    
Having the first graduation ceremony was an historic moment for the library, and something they hope to continue, along with promoting the program more, Lent stated.
   
“I think success for us will be things like people being able to fulfill their hopes and dreams for their work life,” Lent said. “That could mean being able to afford staying in San Francisco as opposed to not being able to — that can mean a better life for their children and family. For some people, it's a point of pride to tell their kids they have a high school diploma, and you can do that, too.'”

 
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