Angela McTeigue dropped out of Ruidoso High School during her junior year. She had planned to start earning her GED diploma soon after, but once her son was born, there was time for being a mom, work and not much else.
Now the 32-year-old single mother of three is back in school, working toward her high school diploma thanks to a new initiative within the state’s public libraries.
“I work in the restaurant business and don’t really want to do that forever. Without a GED or without a diploma though, you can’t really go any further,” McTeigue said. “I’m trying to better myself and get a better job, and without this, I’m not sure how I could.”
In Cimarron, a northeastern New Mexico village with about 900 residents, McTeigue is one of four single mothers who make up the first cohort of students in the state to enroll in Career Online High School, a nationwide platform that offers high school diplomas, GED diplomas or workforce training to anyone 19 and older.
The program is currently funded by federal CARES Act grants to the New Mexico State Library and available in six public libraries — Santa Fe; Albuquerque-Bernalillo County; Belen; and the Northeast, East and West Bookmobiles.
Laura Gonzales, the manager of the Bookmobile Northeast branch of the public library system who recruited and secured scholarships for the first students in Cimarron, said there is serious demand for the program in parts of New Mexico where a second chance at a diploma is hard to come by.
“All four of our students are single mothers ranging from their 20s up to 40. They either moved around a lot or something just came up that they never finished, but now we can open that door again to this opportunity,” said Gonzales, who is also a village councilor.
“I’m born and raised here,” she added. “Opportunities like this in rural New Mexico are either few and far between or just completely forgotten.”
Christina Stephenson, the library services director at Santa Fe’s La Farge Branch Library, said the city’s program already has received five applicants.
Gonzales said the program takes roughly seven to 10 hours per week for up to 18 months but can be shorter depending on how many high school courses a student has already completed.
McTeigue said she takes classes after her shift as a cook and kitchen manager, which runs from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Since class started in January, she said she commits about 14 hours per week in afternoons and evenings to complete the program’s general management section, which teaches note taking, internet research, how to act in different business situations and other skills.
The curriculum is based on reading or listening to lessons on the internet and then passing tests that can be retaken as many times as necessary.
Before the program came along, community colleges have been the only resource for adult education.
“The fact that the program offers either the diploma or the GED and is really self-paced, I think that flexibility is really important,” said Nicole Evans, who directs the program for the Belen Public Library. “I’ve already heard of a lot of interest from parents and others who have had to work to support their family and have been out of school but now want to advance a career or go back to college.”
U.S. citizenship is not required, but all classes are taught in English. The program costs $1,295 and is therefore inaccessible to many New Mexicans without scholarships. The state is currently matching a limited number of scholarships that the participating local libraries can cover through their own fundraising.
Evans said Belen is looking to fundraise for four scholarships on its own for eight students, while Stephenson said Santa Fe is currently fundraising for one scholarship to welcome its first two students.
Library computer labs across the state are closed during the pandemic, and while Gonzales said some students in Cimarron have driven to the library parking lot to connect to its free internet, the program doesn’t have funding for internet connections or laptops for students.
“It’s going to be awesome when diploma day comes, and I can give four out,” Gonzales said. “But this is something I would love to see expanded and branch out in all rural areas. The demand is there all over, and our libraries can help.”
McTeigue said her middle and elementary school age children have enjoyed taking online school with her. She isn’t sure what type of work she wants to pursue after graduation.
“Especially for single mothers, without a full-blown education it’s hard to pay for school. It’s completely free and available online 24 hours, so you can get on whenever you want,” McTeigue said. “I’m not really sure what I want to do. I’m focused on this short-term goal and getting that done first, and then see what might come up from there.”