Posted January 12, 2016
By Leslie Postal, Orlando Sentinel
High school dropouts can turn to libraries in Lake, Orange Counties for free help earning diplomas
Adults without high school diplomas who live in Orange and Lake Counties now have a new way to finish school, courtesy of their public libraries.
The library systems in both counties are among 11 in Florida taking part in a pilot program that provides full-cost scholarships for the Career Online High School, a program to help dropouts earn their diplomas.
The Orange County Public Library has 74 scholarships to hand out, each enough to cover the program’s $1,300 cost. The Lake County Library System has 30.
The online high school program, started in 2010, boasts it is the first online, accredited private high school in the country. Its program offers online classes through libraries around the country, including some in California, Colorado and Illinois.
In Central Florida, both libraries were tapped in December by the State Library of Florida to take part in the new program, so they have just begun talking to potential students. But library officials say providing adults a way to earn high school diplomas fits with their missions, as they already offer many classes and services meant to help residents gain skills.
Three would-be students in Lake already have inquired about the program, which can be done on computer at home or at the library. All three are parents, in their 30s and 40s.
“They all want go to back and get diplomas, so they can get a better job and be good role models” for their own children, said Rachel Dellinger, the library’s adult literacy program coordinator.
The online high school, and its promise of a diploma from an accredited school, appeals more to some than a GED, which they think has a stigma of being a not-quite-real diploma, she said.
The program requires students to spend eight to 10 hours a week on course work. Depending on how many credits participants already have, it can take from five to 18 months to complete.
“This is really like going back to school,” said Donna Bachowski, reference central manager for the Orange library.
So potential students must determine if they are comfortable learning online and if they have enough time to devote to their classes.
The program includes an initial online assessment and in-person interview with library staff meant to determine, “Can you make it work?” Bachowski said.
The San Francisco Public Library launched the program in August and has 11 students enrolled and 10 more doing the prerequisite work. It hopes to have 100 signed up by the end of next summer, said Mel Gooch, the library’s learning and instruction coordinator.
The online high school, Gooch said, provides academic coaches and “a lot of hands-on support” once students start their classes, which include both traditional academic offerings, such as U.S. history, algebra and biology, and career skills.
Those who have signed up, she said, view the program as a “second chance” to finish school and a way to fix “something that kind of weighs on them.”
To qualify for the program, residents must be 19 years old and have a library card. Some attendance in 9th grade is recommended.
The other libraries taking part in Florida include large systems, such as Broward County’s, and small ones like the Taylor County Public Library in North Florida. The state earmarked $500,000 for it.
Though the Florida program provides funding for only one year, Bachowski said if it is successful in Orange, the library might try to raise money to continue it.
To find out more, go to: http://www.careeronlinehs.gale.com/fl/find-library/
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