July 2019

JULY 2019 70 by Aaron Krause G oogle news about public libraries over the past decade or so, and you’ll find two distinct storylines. Most stories, especially those dating back to the Great Recession of the late 2000’s, focus on state and local budget cuts threatening the very existence of public libraries. While this belt-tightening theme still undergirds many recent reports about library systems across the country, there’s also an interesting new narrative cast — and that’s how libraries are adjusting and innovating, whatever their financial circumstances. The Boca Raton Public Library is now in that vanguard, creating its own story and reshaping how it serves the community. Boca Library is one of 38 public library systems in the Sunshine State where adults can earn a high school diploma. Having launched its Career Online High School (COHS) in September 2018, the library hailed the program’s first graduate, Boca resident Ba’Theicia Bennett, in February. Of the 29 million American adults ages 25 to 44 who have not completed high school, 1.2 million reside in Florida, according to 2014 census figures. That’s roughly 12 percent of the state’s working-age population. Studies consistently show the significantly weaker earning potential for those without a high school diploma. In real terms, the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey shows workers without a high school diploma had median weekly earnings of $515, compared with $718 for high school graduates. That affects individuals and families, but it also has a big impact on Florida’s economy. COHS, reportedly the world’s first accredited private online school district, launched in 11 libraries across Florida in 2015 and expanded to 17 by 2016, according to Fort Lauderdale- based Smart Horizons Career Online Education, which administers the programs. COHS is accredited by AdvanceED, which has also accredited Florida Virtual School, a public online school. COHS is designed to re-engage adults ages 19 and older in the education system and prepare them for college or work. (COHS also offers a credentialed career certificate program.) Prospective students have to have finished at least one year of high school and must have a library card. “We look for students who are particularly motivated to complete the program and have adequate access to technology,” Joleen Capella, Boca’s instructional services librarian, said. COHS students are paired with an academic coach and a certified instructor and can complete coursework from any location with a reliable internet connection. As of late April, seven people were enrolled, ranging in age from their late 20s to their 50s. Capella said the Boca Library COHS is progressing well. Bennett, since her graduation, has enrolled in college to pursue a career in education. “We are thrilled,” Capella said. “All of our students are so inspiring in their determination to finish high school, and we are delighted to be a part of their journey.” P Library learnin’ Boca Library blazing new path P