The school is virtual, but the diploma is real

This article, by Jon Karki Meade, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on December 17, 2023.

For some, things go according to plan. For others, there is an entire world of opportunity and options to sort things out according to a new plan. Sometimes that goes better than any original plan would have. Sometimes it doesn’t. And that is a big part of my work.

I’ve worked all over the Pima County Public Library system and much of that work has been helping people humble enough to ask for help. Such interactions often go from embarrassed persons a bit afraid to ask something to persons who understand it’s ok not to know something. The fear of looking less-than-adept holds many back. I understand it. Yes, I’ve gone to the hardware store three times to accomplish a task more than once in my life, and all because I didn’t want to ask for help.

In the spirit of second chances, your library has teamed up with an online charter school to provide a way for Pima County residents 22 years and older to finish high school. Career Online High School (COHS) is, as the name implies, online. The lessons, readings, and tests are all delivered virtually, but the diploma granted is as real as any other. And from there, the opportunities for jobs and better lives are much greater than for those without a diploma.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are correlations between unemployment rates and education levels as well as to income, making this the sort of program that helps this community where it’s much needed.

One of the most common things I hear is a desire to get better jobs. An online program to get a diploma is exactly the sort of thing needed to help those students. A common demographic for the COHS students tends toward mothers who dropped out to raise children but want to re-enter the workforce. They usually cite their families as inspiration for coming back. Others mention being passed over for promotions, not wanting their children to finish high school before they do, and even the need to have a diploma to continue to train as an electrician. That last example is a good reminder that college is not at the top of everyone’s list post-high school.

Working as a Career Support Librarian and a liaison between COHS and PCPL is to help connect people to information and resources. COHS is just one part of it. The library has folders of job leads updated weekly, computers to help applicants, and online and in-person help with resumes and cover letters. Our accessible computers make it easier to apply for today’s job market. It’s our mission to connect people to jobs just as much as it is to connect people to reading materials.

I’m used to working with people who need a second chance in life. I can understand the reasons to drop out of school and the difficulties in coming back. After getting a degree in the library field, my first job with “librarian” in the title was in a state prison, so I know a few things about tough background stories and have heard much about seeking work without privileges most of us take for granted.

I wish COHS was better known. There’s a readiness survey at leading to a two-week preliminary course to determine if online learning and this program is a good fit. Upon success with that course, there’s the program. In it, students must finish two semesters in their first thirty days to get a county-funded scholarship to continue.

23 students have finished so far in 2023, with a few others at the nearly done stage. They will join the 119 others who finished in previous years. I hope there are many more in the coming years, as this is the sort of program needed by this community just as much as it’s needed by its students. A better-educated populace makes Pima County better in so many ways, and I’m happy to play a role in it.

Jon K. Meade has worked for Pima County Public Library for more than 16 years. In his spare time, Jon enjoys collecting toys, drinking tea, checking out too many books, and gardening.