Interview with a Career Online High School Graduate - Brenda Trani

Randall Hinson, Librarian, Office of Education and Literacy,
Career Online High School logo, photo of Brenda Trani

Brenda Trani is a recent graduate from Los Angeles Public Library’s Career Online High School. We talked to Brenda just before our March graduation to ask her about her experience.

Hi Brenda! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience with us. Can you tell us a little about your background before starting COHS?

I was a high school dropout and spent my early adulthood years jumping from one dead-end job to the next. I became a self-taught expert in bookkeeping, property management, web design, and graphic design amongst other things. The pay has always been entry level. Sometimes I knew more than my superiors and they received credit for the work I did. I have held approximately 12 positions, some with big corporations, but always earning no more than $15 per hour.

That sounds really frustrating and unfair. Did that experience inspire you to go back to school?

Yes. I got fed up with being taken for granted. I've always known that what kept me from earning what I deserved was that I had no degree to back up what I knew. Real world experience taught me to handle business decisions much more effectively than anything I could have learned from any textbook, but the fact that I had no title, no degree, nothing to back up my knowledge would always hold me back. So I enrolled in community college. I took a couple of classes but learned that I could never earn my degree without a high school diploma. There was no way around it. I needed that diploma. So, discouraged, I once again dropped out of school and got a full-time job only to repeat the cycle of hitting dead-end jobs. When I tried to enroll back into college again a few years later the laws had changed. This time I couldn't even qualify for financial aid without my high school diploma. I was devastated. I had picked out my classes and attended an orientation by the time I found out.

I can imagine how discouraging that must have been. So when you decided to get your high school diploma, what attracted you to the Career Online High School program?

I spent about 9 years on a waiting list to attend the only adult high school program in my area. Budget cuts had forced the local middle schools that offered evening classes for adult high school students to close. The only school offering this program was Friedman Occupational Adult School and that's where I spent 9 years waiting. Belmont High School was offering evening courses at one point, but I had no transportation and traveling by bus that late in the evening was not an option since the classes were not offered in my area. COHS made it easy for me to attend classes at any time I wanted. They had no waiting lists. They credited me for classes I already had taken. I was able to take classes whenever it was convenient for me. THAT was the best part. I could work at my own pace and around my schedule. When you have a life you have to deal with, a job, responsibilities at home, it becomes almost impossible to commit to taking evening classes. Many things become obstacles. COHS provided me with the opportunity to achieve my goal without dealing with these obstacles.

Yes, I remember the obstacles I faced when going to school and working full-time. It wasn’t easy. What obstacles did you have to overcome to complete COHS and how did you do it?

The last month before I reached my deadline to graduate I relocated to Las Vegas. I was living out of boxes and had no internet. I was so close to finishing that I drove to Starbucks for three weeks straight and ordered one cup of coffee every day so I could sit in there and use their internet to complete my courses because I couldn't afford to start internet service at home. While we packed and moved and dealt with the moving company I used my cell phone to complete my courses and took notes on a small palm-sized notebook. I kept my eyes on the prize. That's all I told myself..." keep your eyes on the prize"...I was too close to finishing to allow this opportunity to slip by me.

Your story is so inspiring, Brenda! You overcame a lot to earn your high school diploma. What advice would you give someone who was thinking about starting COHS?

I would say stop thinking about it and just do it! It doesn't get any easier than this. You study at your own pace...and your coach is there praising you on every day. You have all the support you need and the rewards are priceless. Getting your high school diploma is an accomplishment that stays with you for life. You can lose your job any day...but your education stays with you until you die. And without your high school diploma, all doors to success are very hard to open.