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‘We’re So Grateful’: Library Scholarships Help Couple Get Their High School Diplomas
Last month, 48-year-old Wanda Sanders accomplished a decades-long goal when she received her high school diploma, thanks in part to the New Orleans Public Library.
“I’ve tried a few times over the years, but as a single mother, the household and my children always came first,” Sanders said. “I have a set of twin boys and a set of twin girls, and I always pushed my kids because I wanted them to have what I didn’t have. They all graduated high school and went off to college, and I’m very proud of them. But, getting my high school degree was always something I needed to do in order to be proud of myself, too.”
Sanders earned her diploma, with a focus on early childhood development, from Career Online High School after receiving a scholarship from the New Orleans Public Library. She learned about the program through her husband, Naimullah Abdullah, who also attended Career Online High School with a Library scholarship.
“We got married last year and at our wedding, he asked me what goals I want to achieve in my life and how he could help me achieve them. When I told him that I wanted to get my high school diploma, he said, ‘Well, let me tell you what I did. When I was 65 years old, I achieved my high school diploma and I went through the public library,’” Sanders explained. “And I was like, ‘What? The Library?’”
Sanders said she never would have thought to look to the Library for help getting an education, but took her husband’s advice. Within a few weeks, she was enrolled in Career Online High School and on her way to finally getting her high school diploma for free. Ten months later, Sanders finished the program, much to her surprise and relief.
“I thought I was way behind, but all of a sudden, I was almost done,” she said, crediting her success to the support of her family, her husband, and her Career Online High School academic coach.
“I’ve tried to go back to school in the past, but it’s never worked out for me. But this time was different. My coach was excellent. She’d get on my case if I started slacking, but she was also there praising me, and encouraging me, and helping me through topics I was struggling with. I give her the most props, and I think what probably made the biggest difference for me this time around was having her be there for me,” Sanders said.
Abdullah said his experience with the program was similarly positive and that his academic coach was also vital to his success. After dropping out of high school when he was 17 years old, Abdullah said he took his GED a few years later but did not pass the math section. Promising himself he’d try again later, Abdullah said the years passed by without issue and getting his diploma was put on the back burner.
“I never really had a problem with it. I got a job and made a career, but it was always something I wanted to do,” he said.
At 65 years old, Abdullah heard about the Library’s Career Online High School scholarships and figured there was no time like the present.
“I finished the program on February 22, 2020. It was something I always wanted to do, my whole life, and I finally did it,” Abdullah said. “I put it off for all those years, and I only wish I had thought to look at the Library sooner. I wouldn’t have waited so long if I knew.”
For Sanders, going back to school was intimidating, but once she got started, she was excited to be learning in a flexible and non-judgmental environment.
“I’m not going to lie and say it was easy. There were lots of tears, lots of frustration. But in the end, my coach would help me work through those low points, and she always encouraged me to get back up on my feet and keep going,” Sanders said. “I finished everything at 11:11 p.m. on June 20. It was a Sunday night, I’ll never forget it. I was so happy, I just wanted to tell everyone that I knew that I was done, that I had my diploma.”
After she completed her coursework, Abdullah threw Sanders a graduation party, complete with a pink cap and gown.
“My friends and family kept asking me how I felt. It’s hard to put it into words. I feel good, but I can’t believe I actually did it. I still find myself crying when I think about it. I feel like a burden has been lifted, and I can be proud that I followed through with this goal that I’ve had for so long,” Sanders said.
Now that she has her diploma, Sanders is looking into continuing her education and pursuing a career in medical coding.
“I couldn’t have done this without the Library, and probably my husband wouldn’t have either. And we’re both so grateful that there are services like this that exist at the Library. Before a year ago, I had no idea, but we think it’s incredible,” she said.
Career Online High School is an online high school diploma and career certification program available through public libraries across the country. The New Orleans Public Library has been offering scholarships to qualified applicants since January 2020. There are currently 11 remaining scholarships the Library is seeking to fill before the end of 2021. If you or someone you know is interested in applying, please visit cohs.nolalibrary.org.
The Library also offers free adult education services year-round in partnership with YMCA Education Services (YES!), including HISET preparation and literacy classes.
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The New Orleans Public Library’s Reading Buddies program pairs children and teen volunteers to inspire growth in literacy.