Library high school diploma program has first graduate

Jay Ybarra recently completed her high school diploma through Excel Adult High School offered through the Ector County Library. She is the first graduate of the nationally accredited online program. Additional scholarships are needed so more students can complete their diploma. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

After exhausting her options for earning a high school diploma, Jay Ybarra decided to go for one from Excel Adult High School offered through the Ector County Library.

Ybarra said she got her diploma in late October while working as an overnight gate guard for Select Chemistry. She tried several high schools and Odessa College, but they didn’t work out.

“I tried to do GED. I wasn’t dedicated because they made me do in-class classes. I couldn’t work around that with my work schedule. I tried to do Richard Milburn. I couldn’t do that either because at the time, I was still young. I just didn’t have enough time to do that, so when I saw this opportunity I took it and ran with it,” Ybarra said.

Being “much older” now, she said she actually wanted to get a GED or high school diploma.

“I knew I wanted to get it now before it got too late,” she said.

It took her about two months to earn her high school diploma.

“A lot of stress was released off my shoulders,” Ybarra said.

She was staying up all hours and sometimes she just wanted to give up because there were so many pages for the courses. When Ybarra realized she was almost finished, she just kept pushing.

She said she would recommend Excel Adult High School to anybody.

Library Director Howard Marks said the nationally accredited online program costs $1,100, but there are scholarships available. Students get “an actual diploma,” not a GED.

“It’s easy, self-paced, and it’s not hard to navigate the courses,” Ybarra added.

“It will have helped me have a better future. But nowadays, most people don’t even look for a GED or diploma. But … it will get me far farther in the future. If I want to go back to school for anything, I’ll be able to because I have my high school diploma,” Ybarra said.

She said she hasn’t really thought about going back to school.

“I already got my CDL, so that’s good enough,” Ybarra added.

She added that if she does go back to school, it would probably be for welding.

Her family is in Midland. She has two brothers on her mother’s side and five brothers and one sister on her dad’s side. Ybarra falls in the middle, but she takes on the older sibling role.

“My mom helps me a lot. That’s who I stay with right now. I help her mostly because she’s a single mom,” Ybarra said.

Angie Gaule, AV librarian at Ector County Library, said the library started the Excel program in March 2023.

Ybarra is their first graduate.

Marks said they have a new scholarship from Friends of the Library and anyone can apply for it. Students complete some preliminary work and they have a month to evaluate them. During that time, they check in with Gaule.

“It gives them a chance to transform their lives, to change their trajectory of their lives and to really call the shots in their lives,” Marks said.

He said when the library posted the diploma opportunity on Facebook, it got 33,000 viewers.

“It was our highest ranking post, I think, ever since I’ve been here,” Marks said.

“In views and in shares,” Gaule said.

“We were not expecting this at all. We did not see this coming,” Marks added.

Marks said he attended a recent library directors conference and one of the nuggets he took away was that libraries should try to do something that no other library does.

“This is one of the things that we’ve done that no other library … regionally does,” Marks added.

Gaule said she has been contacted by other libraries in El Paso and Abilene to find out how Excel Adult High School works and she’s given them information.

Marks said they presented it at the State Library Association Conference.

“I know Midland was interested. I don’t know if they ever followed up on it,” he said.

Gaule said one of the bigger stumbling blocks is finding additional scholarship money.

“We’ve put it out on our website that we’re looking for additional scholarships. We put it on our social media. We actually did a direct mail campaign,” Marks said.