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Online Course Removes Barrier to Earning a High School Diploma

(featured on the Neighborhood Networks Web site in December, 2006)

A high school diploma is a springboard to better employment opportunities, college admission, and even acceptance into the military. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2004, high school graduates were 70 percent more likely to be employed than those without a high school diploma. The majority of jobs today require some type of training or education beyond high school, and most institutions of higher education want their applicants to be high school graduates. In addition to opening a world of opportunity, a high school diploma demonstrates a student’s commitment to expanding his or her mind and dedication to getting the job done—two traits that score major points with potential employers.
Staff at the Kenyon Hodges Computer Learning Center (KHCLC) in Trenton, NJ, believe that earning a high school diploma can create a sense of pride and accomplishment at any age. So, in collaboration with the Daylight Twilight High School (DTHS), they offer a high school diploma program for adults who never completed high school.

Satellite Campus

A nontraditional public high school for out-of-school youth, young adults, and high school students with academic, behavioral, or social problems, DTHS provides a comprehensive high school educational program to help students earn their high school diploma. Although DTHS awards more diplomas annually than any other high school in New Jersey, Principal William Tracy felt that they could reach even more people by establishing satellite campuses in locations more accessible to Trenton residents. Tracy approached the staff at KHCLC, located at the Kingsbury Corporation Twin Towers site, about being a satellite site for residents in the Kingsbury community and surrounding areas. In September 2004, KHCLC began offering a traditional in-class high school diploma program. Two years later, the center added an online diploma program through Advanced Academics, an Internet company that provides Web-based instruction in secondary education.

“At KHCLC, the high school diploma program is offered to the entire community, not only Kingsbury residents, but participants must be 19 years or older,” says Shari Sabath, center director. “Applications are available at the center, and once potential students complete their application, we submit it to onsite program instructors who then register them in the Trenton Public School System through DTHS.”

Two Formats From Which to Choose

DTHS funds the program, provides instructors, and pays for students’ tuition. Once enrolled, students participate in a curriculum that emphasizes math, language arts, socials studies, health, and science—core high school educational courses. Students can opt to take the traditional, in-class program or the online program.

Students in the traditional in-class program meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The in-class program is offered in 10-week sessions, and it may take up to 2 ½ years to complete the entire program.

For the online program, students can meet Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., but are not required to go to the center to complete their course work. Students can participate and complete assignments at home or anywhere that has Internet access. However, they are required to meet once a week with William Royal, DTHS online instructor; log in a minimum of six hours a week to remain in the program; and take all tests and exams at the center. KHCLC is the only one of five satellite campuses that offers the online program and instituting it was not without challenges.

“Originally, we were unable to offer the online aspect of the program because we had donated computers that were running Windows 98 and were too unstable,” says Sabath. “In 2005, we were awarded a matching Community Development Block Grant. With that money, we purchased new Pentium 4 computers and a server—which allowed us to run the more stable Windows XP—and set up the computers in such a way that they were protected from malware.”

Increased Flexibility

Offering an online program also increases student retention because it eliminates transportation, childcare, eldercare, and other barriers that affect consistent attendance. Being able to work at home solves many of these issues and is a major advantage of the online program. Students can also complete assignments and coursework around their work schedules so they don’t miss work and don’t have to pay for childcare or eldercare, or transportation.

“I can do the work around my schedule as a mom,” says one resident. “I also like that I can work from any computer with Internet access.” Another resident who has already earned 95 of the required 115 credits adds, “The online program is easier for me. I can work at my own pace and only do what I have to.”

“I think that the flexibility that students have—being able to do their coursework at the center, at home, or any other computer—is helping them stick to it,” says Sabath. “The real proof will be the number of graduates in June.”

There are currently 18 students enrolled in the online program and 14 in the traditional program. All participants must complete the state’s High School Proficiency Assessment examination and fulfill regular state course requirements to receive their diplomas and graduate.

“Our students receive a high school diploma from the Trenton, New Jersey, Board of Education,” said Martin Galvin, DTHS curriculum coordinator. “This is not a GED [General Educational Development] program, which is often challenging for residents and not accepted at some colleges and universities. After completing the program, these students are high school graduates. That’s amazing.”

Opening Avenues for Further Service

The satellite high school diploma program has had a positive effect on KHCLC. The center’s computers are now being used more as tools and less as toys. The high school diploma program has increased center traffic during previously low use times, and center staff members are eager to reach out to these new faces and recruit them for other programs now that they are comfortable in the center.