Santa Monica Public Library’s free Career Online High School catches students who fell through the cracks

By Nicole Borgenicht

Librarians Stephanie Archer and Nancy Bender celebrate with graduates Danny Guevara and Cristina Santiago

Santa Monica restaurant waiter Danny Guevara didn’t get the chance to finish high school. He was born in this country, but his parents were not. When they got deported to Mexico in 2013, Guevara left with them until he could return as an adult.

Yolanda Mickens didn’t finish either. A Santa Monica resident who supervisors playground activities for a local disabilities service center, she grew up in foster care and dropped out of school to get a job after becoming a mom.

According to U.S. Census figures, more than 3,300 Santa Monica residents have not completed at least a high school education. But Guevara is no longer part of that statistic — and Mickens is well on her way to a graduation day — thanks to a burgeoning Santa Monica Library program that offers adult residents free online high school completion courses.

Career Online High School is part of a city initiative to help young adults bridge skills gaps that keep them from attaining living-wage jobs. The 18-credit course, the product of a partnership between Cengage Learning and Smart Horizons Career Online Education, takes from six to 18 months to complete — designed to be flexible enough for working parents or caretakers.

“The program is tailored to each individual student’s needs. It’s self-paced so they can balance the many demands of their busy lives, and coaches are available for positive reinforcement when the going gets tough,” said Director of Library Services Patty Wong.

Graduates earn an accredited high-school diploma — not a GED — and a career certificate in focus areas such as child care and education, hospitality, or office management.

Guevara is currently looking at job options in his career certificate choice of homeland security, but in the meantime his proud restaurant manager gave him a raise for attaining his diploma.

“I struggled looking for work, but luckily was referred by a friend to the restaurant — and the same friend told me about the scholarship opportunity [to Career Online High School]. I did not think twice and did it!”

Mickens is still deciding her career certificate ambitions but hopes to become a notary, for which she will blog and build a website.

“I was a foster child and the product of social promotion from the No Child Left Behind system. I was moved along but I was behind and then they stopped the program,” she says. “I wanted to build something up myself, rather than through a company.”

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