At long last, high school grads

First 'class' earns diplomas at Brookfield Library's online school

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

The first graduating class of the Career Online High School program at the Brookfield Public Library received their diplomas at the library on Oct. 28. 

Four people -- Celine Blando, Antoniesha Brown, Lucy Glass and Wesley Koerner -- completed the program, which is offered nationwide through libraries. 

Blando and Koerner were present to receive their diplomas in front of a small crowd of family, friends, and a few library officials.

The Career Online High School is a program designed for adults who did not graduate from high school. The program allows students to complete all the requirements for a high school diploma working online. 

"When do you get a chance in your life to erase a regret that's over 40 years?" said the 62-year-old Blando. "I think that's awesome."

Wearing blue graduation gowns and mortar boards, Blando and Koerner entered a basement meeting room at the library to a recording of "Pomp and Circumstance."

Blando found out about the online high school program in early 2017 by reading a story in the Landmark about it. She had to drop out of Lyons Township High School after her sophomore year to work at Jewel.

"My parents couldn't even afford my books sophomore year," said Blando, who added that she struggled in school as a sophomore. "I've always been a reader, I've always studied. It just wasn't feasible for me financially to continue." 

Her parents were struggling to make a go of a paint and wallpaper store in LaGrange. Blando had to take care of her two younger siblings and cook dinner for the entire family.

As an adult she always enjoyed reading and learning and even took some college level courses at night school at LTHS but always regretted not having that high school diploma. 

The very day she read the newspaper story, Blando stopped off at the Brookfield Library to learn more about it. She eventually was interviewed by Frank Murray, head of reference and electronic services at the library, took a pre-test, and was admitted into the program.

"I didn't realize how upset I was about not graduating until I saw it in the paper and sat down with an interview with Frank," Blando said.

Blando, who works part time in a doctor's office, said it was difficult at first to get into the routine of studying. But she quickly got the hang of it, taking detailed notes from the online coursework and earning straight A's. Blando spent as much as much as eight hours a day on her schoolwork, she said.

"It's kind of hard to keep up with household things and getting together with friends," Blando said. "It's a commitment."

The online high school offers many of the standard high school classes such as algebra, biology, world literature and world and U.S history. Students take one subject at a time. There are tests after each chapter and a final exam.  

"The program was well designed, well thought out, and they had resources," Blando said.

Koerner, 52, is a truck driver in the Chicago area. He grew up in Cicero and had to drop out of high school after his mother died when he was 15 years old. His father had died when Koerner was just 3.

"My mother passed away so I had to go to work. I couldn't go to school," Koerner said.

Koerner got a full-time job as a porter at the old Sportsman's Park race track in Cicero. First an aunt took him in but that didn't work out, so Koerner went to live with the family of friend. He credits his friend's father, former Cicero police officer James McCauley, with helping to save his life. 

"His family took me in when everything went south," Koerner said. "He raised me until I was 18 years old and took care of me."

Koerner eventually became a truck driver and rose to become an operations manager until the company went out of business about 12 years ago. Then he returned to driving.

He learned about the program when he applied for a library card. Koerner is a fervent believer in education, something he has passed on to his three children.

"They have no choice but to finish and take care of themselves with schooling," Koerner said. "No one is going to be a truck driver in my family. It is a good honest, hard living, but I believe education trumps all."

His eldest daughter, Brittany, teaches seventh grade in Massachusetts; his son, Jacob works at LaGrange Memorial Hospital and is studying to be an emergency medical technician at Triton College; and his youngest child, Sophia, is an eighth-grader at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield.

Koerner said that he would do course work for at least one hour each night and do more on weekends.

"Every night I would get home from work, I would have dinner and then I would wall myself off in the kitchen and do one lesson," Koerner said. "I missed a year and a half of sit-down family time. I had to put a back seat to regular life. This was real school."

Both Blando and Koerner said that their toughest subject was algebra

"Algebra was the hardest by far," said Koerner who got some help from his son and youngest daughter. 

The Career Online High School focuses on job preparation, and students must pick one of eight career paths. Blando studied food and hospitality because of her background working in the RBHS cafeteria, while Koerner studied office management.

The gregarious Koerner said he would like to work in sales, which he did some of when he was an operations manager.

"I loved the sales part," Koerner said. "I think I could sell an Eskimo an ice cube tray."

The $1,295 cost of the Career Online High School was paid by the library through scholarships funded by contributions from the Friends of the Library. The program must be completed within 18 months of starting the course work.

Anyone interested in enrolling in the Career Online High School should contact the Brookfield Public Library.

"I would hope that other people would take advantage of the opportunity," Blando said. "When do you get to undo a regret?"

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