Wallenpaupack Area School District offers adult diplomas for Wayne, Pike residents

Wallenpaupack Area School District offers online, virtual learning programs for students who cannot attend traditional, in-person classes, and is making it possible for motivated adults who want a high school diploma to also achieve that distinction.

Since starting the Adult Diploma Program about nine years ago, an average of five adults a year have enrolled, Frank Williams, coordinator of alternative education, told the school board Nov. 13.

During the meeting in the high school library, John Spall, president of the board, did what he has been doing at commencement exercises for decades: He awarded a diploma. This time it was for Nicole Oricinoli, who works as an evening custodian at Wallenpaupack Area High School.

Oricinoli started taking the courses three years ago.

Nicole Oricinoli, a custodian at Wallenpaupack Area School District, receives her diploma, November 13 from School Board Chairman John Spall at the district school board meeting in the high school library. Oricionli enrolled with the district's Adult Diploma Program accomplished through one of the district's online academy providers. At left is Frank Williams, Coordinator of Alternative Education.

"She originally went to Wallenpaupack, and I think in eighth grade went to Western Wayne and didn't finish over there," Williams said. "So, I got the records from Western Wayne, set the goals..." Williams explained.

"She had a lot to do. But she was very motivated and got to work and she really impressed me," Williams said. "...I think she self-motivated herself and really did a tremendous amount of work, and she finished last month."

The board, administrators and others gave her loud, prolonged applause.

Superintendent Keith Gunuskey commented, "Nicole is one of the custodians here at the high school. She does a great job, and we are so happy she achieved this greatness. We're so blessed to have you at the school. So, thank you for your dedication not only to yourself to earn this degree but also to our school, our students and our community."

Nicole Oricinoli is the latest graduate of Wallenpaupack Area School District's Adult Diploma Program. She was recognized November 13 by the school board and administration.
Nicole Oricinoli is the latest graduate of Wallenpaupack Area School District's Adult Diploma Program. She was recognized November 13 by the school board and administration.

Adult Diploma program

The adults taking this program are enrolled in VLN, one of two providers of online teaching programs the district offers their regular students via the Wallenpaupack Virtual Academy. After the age of 21, however, education costs something, Williams said, so the adults who enroll pay $35 a credit. On average, the adult student needs five to 10 credits to graduate ($175 to $350).

One young man came in last year who had no credits at all. The cost to get all 27 credits Wallenpaupack required for graduation is around $900. "For someone without a high school diploma, that's a lot of money," Williams said. "I don't charge the money until they completed their credit."

It is open to Wayne and Pike County residents whose class has already graduated. Williams said they have had students ranging from their 20s through their 60s. One woman had retired and wanted her high school diploma, he said.

Williams does the grading himself.

The program is self-paced, depending on how much time the adult student needs or wishes to take. The student is responsible for finding a tutor, if necessary, Williams said. The student receives a Wallenpaupack diploma and a transcript of their grades.

Once an adult applies, Williams reviews what credits they need to meet Wallenpaupack graduation requirements. They may, for example, be for English, math, science, gym, or electives. The only difference is the adult students can be awarded a half-elective credit by writing a paper on some event in their life — for example, pursuing a job or having a child — and then doing a presentation about it.

A lot of district electives are about life experiences, such as art or music. This offering is more about life in general, he said.

He works with the student on goals and time frames before they enroll in courses.

How valuable is having a high school diploma in terms of wages? Williams said based on his research, the average difference between having a diploma versus no diploma is around $11,000 a year. "Some probably make more than I make; but most of them probably make a lot less," he added. The difference between a diploma and a G.E.D. is about $2,000 a year.

Frank Williams, Coordinator of Alternative Education, Wallenpaupack Area School District.
Frank Williams, Coordinator of Alternative Education, Wallenpaupack Area School District.

2% of students choose virtual

In the case of traditional school-age students, 98% of Wallenpaupack students attend in person. Williams said this is the highly desired option, providing direct access to teachers and socialization that develops with their teachers and peers. "Those things can't be achieved online," Williams said, "so we think [studying] in the [school] building is best."

Two percent, however, for whatever reason, lack the ability to attend. "A lot of it is health concerns, anxiety and when we get into the older grades, sometimes kids need to work to help support their families," Williams said.

They presently have 74 students enrolled: 53 in high school, 10 in middle school and 11 in the elementary grades.

They can choose between two online academies; 73 are enrolled with VLN, a small company based in Pittsburgh, and one student is enrolled in EdOptions Academy, in Bloomington, Minnesota.

This is unlike public charter cyber schools, an option families have which is supported by school taxes, but the student does not receive a Wallenpaupack diploma.

By choosing an online academy offered by the district, the student still has the resources other district students have: Access to district teachers and counselors, district-provided iPads, and the opportunity to participate in the district's extracurricular activities from clubs to dances to sports.

"The reason we partner with two programs is because what I found is parents like choice," WIlliams said. "They like to be able to say, 'What do you have?'"

If parents want their child to have textbooks, only VLN provides them. VLN also offers worksheets for kindergarten through third grade. EdOptions, however, offers no books, and there is an extra cost for worksheets for grades K-5.

"No textbooks; they are on the computer all day long as they are doing it," Williams said of EdOptions. "So, I think VLN has the advantage there. When parents hear there is an actual, physical textbook, they like that."

VLN offers 50 free, unsupported seats, which means the district does not pay for them but must provide the teacher support including grading. Williams makes use of these seats for the adult program.

Online education, Williams said, is rigorous, involving a lot of work, but allows flexibility for the student not locked into a class schedule, going from one class to the next whenever the bell rings. "That is one of the reasons a lot of kids who have anxiety will go online, as that calms them down, allows them to focus and before they know it the day is over."

The next school board meeting at the library is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. This is preceded by the annual re-organizational meeting at 5:30 p.m. and a committee meeting at 5:45.

Peter Becker has worked at the Tri-County Independent or its predecessor publications since 1994. Reach him at pbecker@tricountyindependent.com or 570-253-3055 ext. 1588.

This article originally appeared on Tri-County Independent: Wallenpaupack offers adult diplomas for Wayne, Pike residents