On a Tuesday morning this past January, Central Library’s Taper Auditorium filled with the flashes of cameras, the uplifting lull of “Pomp and Circumstance,” and a royal blue tide of caps and gowns. But this was not your typical graduation ceremony.
“This is a city of second chances—Los Angeles defines itself that way. We are not a city that cares where you come from, or where your parents come from, or what your first language was, the color of your skin, your gender,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti addressing the first class of 28 graduates from the Los Angeles Public Library’s pioneering Career Online High School. “What we care about is your dreams and what you want to accomplish in life. You’ve already shown yourself to be people who embrace the idea of a second chance. This library system was there at the right moment to be the enabler of your hard work. We opened the door up, but you today have walked through that door,” said the Mayor.
Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Advice to Graduates:
- Be fearless
- Be humble
- Learn how to listen
- Lead with love
In an effort to address the spreading epidemic of high school dropouts—nearly 40 million adults across the country and half of the adult population in L.A.—the Los Angeles Public Library teamed up with Career Online High School, an 18-credit, career-based high school completion program designed to prepare students for the workforce. This first-ever collaboration between an accredited online program and a public library offers adult learners better access to a flexible, supportive environment for completing their degree.
“This program is the dramatic and powerful example of how the Library is all about lifelong learning and empowerment and how public libraries can play a very important role in the workforce and economic development,” said City Librarian John Szabo. Since kicking off in March 2014, over 150 students have enrolled in the program.
“It’s beneficial for numerous reasons—from helping students go on to college programs, apply for scholarships, get promotions at current jobs, or learn new skills for their careers—we’ve witnessed how it can provide new opportunities and instill a feeling of accomplishment and self-worth in the participants,” explained Brian Cunningham, LAPL librarian and the project coordinator for Career Online High School.
Through the help of the Library Foundation, every student accepted to the program receives a grant to cover his or her studies. Antoine Merritt, one of the graduates, had struggled to find an affordable, accredited program that could accommodate his work schedule. “I was promised a promotion at work into a new department once I showed them that I was committed to my education and completed college coursework,” said Merritt, who after finishing his online high school degree in September 2014 was greenlighted to begin training in his new department while pursuing a degree in electronics at Pierce College. He’s also become an ambassador for the Library’s program—his niece just began working on her high school degree last month. “This program is changing my whole family’s life and giving us tools to help us grow and thrive,” he said.
“If it were not for the Library I wouldn’t have gotten my high school diploma—I would have just let it go. I always wanted it, but was not in a position to take time away from work or my college courses to do so. It has given me the confidence that I was lacking because I was missing a big part of my educational goals,” said Angie Velasquez, graduate of Career Online High School, pictured above.
Gina Ruiz—the grandmother of a current high school student—has been an office manager for over 20 years, and between work and family never had the time to complete her degree. “There was always this barrier of not having the diploma. It kept me from certain promotions, attending college, and applying for scholarships,” Ruiz explained. After completing the program last August, she’s now enrolled at Northeastern University College of Professional Studies and hopes to go on to receive her Master’s degree and a Ph.D. The Library’s support of Ruiz’s education has continued beyond Career Online High School. A teacher from the program along with Cunningham wrote her letters of recommendation and she recently received a scholarship for college. Also, she has learned how to use other Library resources for her college research papers.
The program serves a wide range of student needs. David Villena, originally from Mexico City, graduated from high school there, but when he moved to the U.S. in 2000, he could not find a program that would allow him to transfer his coursework and complete a full high school degree. On a visit to his neighborhood library, he learned about Career Online High School. “What else could I ask for? It was love at first sight,” said Villena, who completed his degree last April. Villena credits the Library’s encouragement as laying the foundation for taking future steps in his education. “An overall benefit of taking this online program is the fact that I came into contact with a new way to learn—that has given me a new tool to approach other online courses.”
The program is also now being modeled at 49 other libraries across this country and is expanding across the state. “We’re honored that the program that we helped design has been implemented at so many other library systems, continuing its impact. In fact, I’m currently mentoring 12 other library systems throughout the state as they work on rolling out Career Online High School later this year,” says Candice Mack, the interim principal librarian of Young Adult Services and project manager of Career Online High School.
Learn more about Career Online High School here.
All photos by Gary Leonard.