Online program helps non-traditional students, regional education center receives Transformation Award

Originally published in High Plains Journal – February 20, 2019

The Southwest Plains Regional Service Center, based in Sublette, Kansas, was recently recognized as a Transformation Award recipient by Fuel Education, its online computer partner, for giving dropouts and at-risk students an opportunity to earn a high school diploma and expanding access to online courses to hundreds of students across the state.

“We were selected for outside of the box thinking on how we use our software in helping adult learners,” said Community Learning Center Director Bill Losey.

As a practical real-world benefit the SWPRSC, which has locations in Dodge City and Scott City, Kansas, has aided students who work in meat-packing plants among other businesses to get their high school diploma, Losey said. The online program also helps students from schools in which teacher vacancies make it hard for students to complete the requirements for their diploma. The program is available statewide.

Although students might be non-traditional in nature they are expected to work hard to earn their diploma.

Students have to earn 21 credits to graduate from the Dodge City program, said Adult Education Center Coordinator Pam Gleason, who is with USD 443.

Gleason has 21 graduates from the Dodge City program so far for this school year. They can continue to reach for the graduation goal until the end of April. The program typically has 15 to 25 students who graduate each year. The Dodge City Adult Education Center has had 238 graduates from its program that started in 2001.

In the case of students working at packing plants they already know that most their age have already received their diploma, Losey said.

The educators said those students with jobs also understand the void in their life and to better themselves it means earning a diploma. Because of their schedules the only way for them to receive a diploma is by working through an online program.

“Some of them want better jobs and promotions at the plant,” Gleason said. She added that was a tangible reason why some of the students in Dodge City pursue their diploma. “Others want to earn their diploma to show their children why it is necessary to get their diploma.”

Losey said traditional graduation ceremonies are touching but he said attending a graduation ceremony for non-traditional students is very emotional for students and the staff.

“We know how hard they work with all the struggles they have in life,” he said.

Some have also continued coursework at a community college, the educators said. Others are able to tap into resources to learn about professions they may want to pursue once they have a diploma such as cosmetology and law enforcement. Losey likes the fact they can learn about things outside of their area of interest. He believes that is a valuable learning experience too.

Losey said the online coursework provides another service. When rural western Kansas schools experienced the loss of a physics teacher it was through the program that students could continue to get the credits they needed. The educators recognize how difficult it is to get foreign language teachers in western Kansas and the online program helps about 140 students who need such instruction, particularly for Spanish and French.

Students need the Internet to complete their online coursework so the center also works with the students to find access, Gleason said. Public libraries with computer services can help them complete coursework, Gleason said, and she has observed them during their work on weekends.

The program is not designed to compete against traditional brick and mortar schools. Losey said the online course helps students with specific needs.

“Suppose a student did something stupid and got expelled from school they can still pursue their goal to get a diploma,” he said. “However, this is not a place to go if you are unhappy with your local school.”

Gleason said working through school’s policies and programs is the best way to resolve those conflicts. “We’d rather they finish where they are at,” she said.

“If there is a discipline problem, there will likely be a discipline problem here,” Losey said. “They won’t get a lot of work completed if they are not self-motivated.”

Students have to want to achieve their diploma to have success, the educators said, and they encourage people who have questions to reach out to them. The SWPRSC can be reached at 800-728-1022 and more information is available at www.swprsc.org

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or dbergmeier@hpj.com.

 

To learn more about Fuel Education, visit https://www.fueleducation.com/

 

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