Posted April 20, 2016
By Livi Stanford
Originally published in the Daily Commercial
TAVARES, FL — Crystal Siblag lost her father at age 10.The event crippled her. She found it hard to focus on her studies. “My mom remarried when I was 16 and I took that hard,” Siblag said.
As a result, she did not graduate high school — a decision that affected her in numerous ways. But it was not until 15 years later that the decision came back to haunt her.
When Crystal’s husband was having a conversation with her son, Hunter, he informed him in passing that his mother did not graduate high school.
Hunter, in disbelief, had to directly confront his mother on the issue.
When Crystal faced her son to confirm her husband’s statement, she knew it was not a reality she wanted to live with for the rest of her life.
“I wanted to improve,” she said.
After surfing the internet, Siblag learned about a pilot program in Lake County that allows individuals to earn high school diplomas through the Career Online High School Program at the Lake County Library System.
In December 2015, Lake County partnered with Gale, a provider of library resources and part of Cengage Learning, to offer a new program allowing students to earn a high school diploma instead of a GED.
The diploma is more highly recognized by colleges and universities, and 90 percent of new recruits in the military have to obtain such a credential, according to Lake County Library Services Division Director Paul Alford.
Siblag began the program immediately after she was awarded a scholarship from the county library system. The county awarded 40 scholarships for the program and may receive funds to offer more in the future.
Siblag said she spent every moment of free time working through the online program.
“It is a completely online program,” said Jessica Anderson, outreach coordinator for Lake County’s Library System. “This program gives you a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools diploma. You have 18 months to complete it. If someone has high school credits, they can transfer into the program. It could cut down their time significantly.”
Siblag entered the program with high school credits. She needed four credits to receive her diploma.
“Coursework begins in one of eight high-growth, high-demand career fields, before progressing to the core academic subjects,” according to a press release from the library system.
The program pairs each student with an academic coach, who offers guidance and encouragement.
“I had an academic coach who was very motivating,” Siblag said. “She would send me emails weekly.”
Working on the program diligently, Siblag received her diploma in two months.
The 31-year-old hopes to continue on to a career in nursing or child care. She is one of the first two residents in the state to earn an accredited high school diploma through the program. Tommy Lumb also earned his high school diploma from the program.
Alford said the program is critical.
“This really folds in nicely with the emphasis we have on lifelong learning in public libraries,” he said. “We really are that equalizing factor for folks that don’t have other resources to continue their education and skill development. This is one more application that gives folks a second chance, especially for folks that were not able to succeed in high school the first time around. It is an accredited high school diploma. It may be able to take folks further than the GED.”
The U.S. Census Bureau of Statistics reported that 13 percent of Lake County adults do not have a high school diploma.
Commissioner Leslie Campione, liaison to the Library Advisory Board, said the program is a way to utilize the county’s libraries “to open the door to a high school diploma.”
“It is about personal achievement, bettering oneself, and also improving your opportunities in the workforce to get a higher paying job,” she said. “It opens the door for higher wage opportunities within the workforce.”
For more information about the Career Online High School, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 352 253-6180.