LaShawn Alvarez was pregnant and a senior in high school when she was placed on bed rest and left school.
Now, a restaurant manager with a 5-year-old daughter, she’s about halfway through a free, accredited online high school diploma program that’s available at the Boulder Public Library. Alvarez, who recently moved to Loveland, found out about the diploma program while in enrolled in a GED program in Longmont.
“A GED wasn’t really what I wanted,” she said. “I wanted my high school diploma. I was really excited when I heard they gave scholarships to adults trying to get their diploma. I want to go to school to become a sign language interpreter. A diploma opens up better opportunities for jobs.”
The library, through its BoulderReads program, began offering the Career Online High School diploma program in 2017 to Boulder County residents who are 19 or older.
The Boulder library was one of seven libraries in the state that partnered with the Colorado State Library and Cengage Learning to offer the diploma program. More than 5,000 adults in Boulder County lack a high school diploma or equivalent credential, according to the library.
Since the program started, four participants have graduated and 12 are enrolled, BoulderReads manager Shelley Sullivan said.
“We want to reach those people who really want their high school diploma,” she said. “It opens up a whole new realm of career possibilities for people.”
The original partnership provided money to offer scholarships to make the $1,300 program free to participants. To continue providing scholarships, the program now is supported by the Boulder Library Foundation. There are nine scholarships available.
To qualify, there is a two-week prerequisite class to show that potential participants are at a high enough reading level and can commit the amount of time needed to progress through the program. The program requires 10 to 12 hours a week. Students have up to 18 months to complete it.
The online program provides an accredited high school diploma that’s accepted at both community colleges and four-year colleges — something that’s not always the case for non-accredited diploma programs.
Participants also earn a career certificate, choosing from child care and education, security officer, office management, commercial driver, general career preparation, homeland security, retail customer service skills or food and hospitality.
Classes are supported by certified instructors, and students have 24-hour access to the online learning platform and is assigned an academic coach. Participants also can get in-person help from the BoulderReads staff members as they go through the program.
Alvarez said her coach helps when she’s struggling to stay motivated.
“Whenever I feel discouraged, I can reach out to my academic coach and they can direct me in the right direction,” she said. “I like that everything is online. It’s easier to work around your schedule.”
Another participant, Aurora Hernandez, said she dropped out of high school in Arizona in 1995 at the urging of her then boyfriend. She always wanted to get her diploma, she said, but it was a repetitive motion injury from her job as a machinist that pushed her to finally try.
A single mom of five living in Longmont, she has almost finished the program and is working as a school bus driver. Next, after she has her diploma, she wants to learn bookkeeping.
While it’s been challenging because English is her second language, she said she persevered.
“When you want something, you have to go for it,” she said.
One of the four graduates is Longmont resident Mike Gawrlyczik, who earned his diploma through the program in March.
He said was close to graduating from high school 10 years ago when his mom got sick and work in the food industry became his priority. He signed up for the online program, he said, because he was ready to move to another field and wanted more options.
“Part of it was trying to obtain a livable wage in Boulder County,” he said. “More education makes it a little bit easier. It’s given me a lot of self confidence to look at higher education and other career opportunities.”
He said one big advantage of the program is participants receive credit for the high school classes they previously passed. He only needed a couple of math classes, economics, a language arts class and the career certificate class in general career preparation.
“It’s a great program,” he said. “They teach you a lot of valuable skills. I felt very fortunate to find a program that would offer me a regular high school program, not just a GED. Anybody, if they’re determined enough, could go back and finish what they needed to.”