As of Aug. 28, 39 candidates were enrolled to complete the rest of their required high school credits through Project Finish, the Shawnee Mission School District’s new online diploma completion program.
The cost to enroll is $60 and is open to any former high school student 19 years of age or older living within the SMSD boundaries. The program, which uses an online learning platform, was officially launched Sept. 1.
Previously, if an SMSD high school student dropped out and wished to continue their education, they usually opted to go through Johnson County Community College (JCCC) to get their Graduate Equivalency Degree, or GED, according to East Principal Dr. Scott Sherman.
But Project Finish offers an official SMSD high school diploma, which Sherman and Horizons Principal Paul Colwell said is more appealing to employers and universities than a GED. Colwell, who oversees Project Finish and all of SMSD’s alternative programs, explained that this is because a diploma signifies the completion of a four-year program, while a GED is awarded after passing one test.
Karina Montiel, an enrolled Project Finish student who dropped out of JC Harmon High School in 1999 after becoming pregnant, said receiving her diploma would hold more meaning to her than a GED.
“It means a greater thing to me because it’s a joy and honor to graduate from high school,” Montiel said. “I couldn’t do it when I was younger but I’m doing it now.”
Montiel, who has already tried multiple times to get her GED through programs like the one offered through JCCC, says she thinks she could be more successful in Project Finish because of the one-on-one instruction time they’ll provide at Horizons.
“It’s going to be like high school,” Montiel said. “If you need assistance they’ll be there for you to help you through it. With the other programs they just sat you in front of the computer and gave you what they thought you needed to do, and they wouldn’t help you.”
Whether it’s just something they promised their parents they would do, or a step necessary to advance in their career, diploma completion teacher Sarah Finocchario said the online platform gives students a flexibility that traditional high school doesn’t.
“Some alternative students just learn better working at their own pace and in their own environment where they’re comfortable,” Finocchario said. “Intelligence is usually not a factor in getting a diploma. It’s life factors, so I can promise we’ll probably have students knock out a whole semester in two weeks.”
Project Finish students will have access to the Horizons computer lab and the Johnson County Library when completing their credits, or they can work at any other preferred work spot. For some students, this may be their home. Montiel, who’s a parent to two girls with disabilities, says the program is unique because she can learn from home and help her kids while also having access to teachers in a school setting.
According to Colwell, the average student that devotes a reasonable amount of time to their coursework will complete one half-credit course in about a month. After Labor Day, prospective Project Finish students can enroll at Horizons on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Colwell said the new program provides students with a convenient way to reach both personal and professional goals.
“Even if they’re deferred goals, if we have individuals that accomplish their goals, then it just changed the trajectory of their life,” Colwell said.