| Originally posted on This is Tucson |
Yvette Moutran’s royal blue graduation gown swished around her legs as she marched forward to “Pomp and Circumstance,” shaking hands and accepting her diploma.
Finally, she had a high school diploma in hand. Finally, she could flip that tassel from one side of her cap to the other.
Moutran, 36, thought she had missed her chance to graduate long ago.
On Thursday, Jan. 18, Moutran joined four other adults as graduates of the inaugural class of the Pima County Public Library’s Career Online High School program. For an evening, a meeting room at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library downtown was transformed into a hub of celebration as family and friends gathered to cheer on their graduates.
Unlike the library’s existing GED preparation, Career Online High School gives library card holders 22 and older a chance to earn a diploma and career certificate in a variety of areas in 18 months.
All five graduates finished their programs in less than a year, library director Amber Mathewson said at the graduation.
The library began facilitating the Florida-based online high school the fall of 2016. In addition to the five graduates, the library’s program has 35 active students, said Anthony Ludovici, a library program instructor and the coordinator of the online high school.
“I see a unique advantage to the Career Online High School experience to educate students who are adults and juggling families and careers that are already established and even adult children,” Ludovici said, adding that the school is accredited by AdvancED.
The program is flexible and self-paced, though students are expected to put in eight to 12 hours weekly, he added. Many are able to transfer credit from a previous high school. Applicants fill out a self-assessment and then must complete a prerequisite course within two weeks and earn a 70 percent or higher. From there, potential students can interview for the program and the scholarship. Essentially, everyone who gets in goes to school at no cost.
Funding for the program so far has come from a grant through the Library Services and Technology Act and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Friends of the Pima County Public Library and the Pima Library Foundation, Ludovici said.
For Anika Winkelman, 23, the program gave her the diploma she thought she already had.
Her mom, boyfriend, and 2-year-old daughter celebrated with her at the graduation.
Because Winkelman lived in Red Rock during high school, she decided to finish her senior year online, instead of balancing a job and making the long commute to Marana High School everyday. She and her mom found the Texas-based Lincoln Academy. She was supposed to be the part of the Class of 2011.
Following high school, Winkelman went on to beauty school, still thinking she had a diploma. It wasn’t until she applied to Pima Medical Institute last year that she learned that Lincoln Academy wasn’t actually accredited like it claimed and was instead a “diploma mill.”
“From 2011 to 2016, I was under the impression that I graduated high school,” she said.
Currently a hairstylist at Cost Cutters, Winkelman starts at Pima Medical Institute in April with plans to study radiography.
With her credits from Marana High, it took her about six months to finish Career Online High School. Upon graduation, she also received a job certificate in office management.
“For me, I didn’t drop out of high school. I thought I had a diploma,” she said. “I didn’t want to settle for a GED, so it was nice that there was something out there to give me that second chance.”
The program was also a second chance for Moutran, who ended up leaving school to work as a teenager.
Born and raised in Tucson, Moutran is one of 10 kids. Her mother is originally from Mexico City.
“Work has always taken priority,” she said. “Not a lot of us finished school. My mom’s extremely proud.”
Moutran worked in customer service jobs before she was offered a position as a Spanish-language interpreter for financial, medical and legal sectors. She’s done that for 10 years. Not having a high school diploma didn’t really impact her until a recent job offer required one. So she went searching for options.
“I did feel a bit of shame, because it’s something you’re just supposed to do, to finish your school,” she said. Now that she has that diploma (and a career certificate in office management), she’s thinking about new futures — maybe learning American Sign Language interpretation or pursuing a sociology degree to work with victims of domestic violence and abuse.
“Don’t ever think that, ‘Oh, my schedule is too busy. I can’t do (school),'” she said. “Even if you dedicate an hour to it, you can achieve it. We tend to make a lot of excuses, and I think if you’re willing and committed, act on it. It’s so easy to do.”
Most of the time.
Because her original graduation date was almost 20 years ago, reacquainting herself with some topics — especially science — took some work. Google became her BFF.
“My daughter is already in eighth grade and I was like, ‘Uh, I don’t know what I’m doing’ (with homework help),” she said. “But this has given me a refresher. Like now I’m ready for you. It feels good.”
Before the ceremony began, Moutran’s three kids, ages 14, 11 and 5 played clapping games, supervised by her husband, mom and brother.
When Ludovici read her name, the family leaned forward, snapping photos of Moutran’s big moment.
“It was emotional,” she said. “I couldn’t hold back the tears. It feels good to hear them say, ‘Mom, I’m so proud of you,’… Even if I didn’t have that walk, just them seeing me accomplish and work for something I really wanted sets a foundation for them to finish their school.”