Libraries as Community Learning Hubs: Connecting Students to Degrees and Opportunity

Key Points

  • Gale Presents: Excel Adult High School offers extensive support, including scholarships and “Success Coaches” who help students stay motivated and on track.

  • The program considers pre-existing credits and provides English language learner tools, ensuring accessibility for non-native English speakers.

“I was told that I may lose my job unless I went back to school and got my high school diploma,” said Natalie Pinales, a resident of Durant, Oklahoma. As a young mom, Natalie had to forego completing high school on the typical timeline. Now working multiple jobs, she was told that not completing high school was not only an obstacle toward upward mobility in a career but also to keeping one. 

Fortunately for Natalie, innovative partnerships have made high school easier to access asynchronously. It all started as many stories do, at the local public library. 

Natalie approached the library with the question of how to get her GED on a fast timeline, as she needed to show her employer that she was working toward completion. In that process, she met Jamissa (Jami) Kaye Ellis, the program director and literacy coordinator at the local library. Jami informed Natalie that not only could she help Natalie get her GED, but she could do her one better. Through a new program, Gale Presents: Excel Adult High School, residents aged 24 and older now had the opportunity to earn their high school diploma in a self-paced, accredited online diploma completion program. Natalie submitted her credentials from her prior high school experience and realized she only needed 7 more credits to graduate. She was able to close this gap in a matter of weeks.

Jami played a crucial role in bringing the Excel Adult High School program to the library. Inspired by an email, she wrote a grant proposal and secured five initial scholarships for prospective students. Her involvement goes beyond administrative duties; Jami also serves as a “Success Coach,” a role introduced last year. In this position, she provides support to students, helping them navigate the program, stay motivated, and remain on track. Reflecting on her role, Jami notes, “It’s a voluntary thing, but once you see how much of a difference it makes…”

Empowering Adults Through Education

According to the Census Bureau, “From 2011 to 2021, the percentage of adults age 25 and older who had completed high school increased for all races and Hispanic origin groups. During this period, high school completion increased from 92.4% to 95.1% for the non-Hispanic White population; from 84.5% to 90.3% for the Black population; from 88.6% to 92.9% for the Asian population; and from 64.3% to 74.2% for the Hispanic population.”

High school graduates typically experience a significant pay increase, earning approximately $10,000-$15,000 more annually than non-graduates. 

Data from the Census Bureau

Accessibility and Diversity

By offering full-tuition scholarships to anyone with a library card, the Excel Adult High School program demonstrates a profound commitment to lifelong learning and community development. The program’s benefits extend beyond personal achievement. Additionally, graduates are celebrated with formal ceremonies and provided with job or career advancement resources, ensuring they have the support needed to succeed in their professional endeavors.

A unique aspect of the Gale Presents: Excel Adult High School program is its inclusivity regarding the diverse linguistic backgrounds of community members. The program incorporates English language learner (ELL) tools, offering side-by-side translations in multiple languages and an audio reader for enhanced comprehension. This feature ensures that non-native English speakers can fully benefit from the program and improve their language skills alongside their academic achievements.

One of the program’s strongest features is its adaptability, as it takes into account pre-existing high school credits, allowing students to complete only the courses they need. For example, the first student in the program needed just seven credits, while another required ten courses. Currently, a student with no prior high school experience is working through the program. To date, the library has celebrated its third graduate and has three more students enrolled.

Unlike traditional HiSET or GED programs, which require students to pass a test without necessarily mastering the content, Gale Presents: Excel Adult High School ensures that students truly learn the material. This approach provides a more comprehensive educational experience and results in an actual high school diploma rather than a GED.

What’s Next for Natalie

Not only did getting her diploma enable Natalie to keep her job at Big 5 Community, but after securing her diploma she got promoted and now works in the accounting department, where she enjoys great benefits and is using her income to pay her way through college.

Equipped with the Gale Presents: Excel Adult High School program, public libraries can offer even more services to their communities, adding to the list of free access to media, free museum passes, free “libraries of things,” free tax, small business help and grants and so much more.  By offering accessible, adaptive, and comprehensive educational opportunities, libraries are not just promoting literacy but also fostering economic development and personal growth. The gift of education provided by libraries like Durant’s is a powerful reminder of the critical role these institutions play in supporting lifelong learning and community empowerment

Natalie Pinales with family.

Mason Pashia

Mason is the Creative Director at Getting Smart. He is an advocate for arts education, strategy, design thinking and poetry.

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