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Learning Center Experience
By Marie Wallace
The call came in the afternoon. I was asked to leave the high school where I worked as a counselor to go to the middle school. The caller from the district office was not very specific, but explained that there was a group of young girls who were causing problems. I arrived to find a group of five young girls and their leader Sasha. These young women had decided to become the principal’s nightmare. They were part of a transfer program that brought students from the city to the suburbs and they did not want to be there. I met with the group and discovered that their plan was to cause so much confusion that they would be sent to another school in the city.
Sasha was a fighter and a leader. Yes she was loud, sometimes impulsive, and always “in your face.” However, I could see through the façade and the bravado. I saw a student who was resilient, creative, and quite capable. I worked with this group of young women throughout the spring and helped them transition to the high school.
When Sasha came to the high school she was assigned to my counseling caseload. During the four years we had our ups and downs, and I had to counsel her about fighting, her attitude, and her grades. Her mouth would get her in trouble. However, she had a sense of humor and sometimes we would laugh together at her decisions. Gradually, she learned and changed. Through all of our interactions, I let her know that I was there to help her succeed.
Senior year arrived and I did a credit check. Sasha had failed sophomore English twice and needed this class to graduate. I looked at her schedule and saw that she was scheduled to repeat the class with the same teacher. After talking to Sasha and conferring with her parents, I made the decision to take her out of English and assign her a study hall. I enrolled Sasha in a sophomore English correspondence course. Sasha would use her lunch and study period to work on this class, which she would spend in the guidance office.
The semester progressed and I monitored Sasha as she sat at a table in the guidance office. She was focused and determined and we mailed assignments to the correspondence school. While other counselors were curious wondering why Sasha was there every day, the guidance secretary gave her errands to run so that she could have a break. Sasha became a permanent presence in the guidance office and an important helper. Since she sat outside of my door, I was able to see her daily and offer encouragement throughout the year. Together we dealt with her mother’s serious health condition and the fear that she would not survive (she did). When her parents divorced and her relationship with her dad went through its ups and downs, I was there to listen and give support.
It was during senior year that she Sasha almost missed the prom. She was involved in a fight and came to my office with tears and a broken fingernail. She seemed more upset with the broken fingernail until she found out that she was grounded by her dad. Yet this time, Sasha had broken up the fight. Her dad reconsidered when he realized that she had now become the person who was breaking up fights instead of starting them.
The year was passing quickly and we worked together to identify a college. I don’t remember how we selected a college in Texas but Sasha was admitted on probation. The next challenge was financial aid. I worked with Sasha and her family and it looked like everything was in order. Graduation day was more than a special event for Sasha and her family. Sasha was on her way to a new life and we never expected a problem.
The problem developed when Sasha arrived on campus and found that due to a mistake by the college, she did not have her financial aid. However, Sasha had the resilience and problem-solving ability to navigate a financial aid office that was in meltdown mode. She rallied other students and became an advocate. Her investigation and problem-solving skills helped the financial aid office find the mistake and correct it. Her efforts benefited other students who were in the same predicament.
In her sophomore year, Sasha became a leader on campus and eventually went to work for campus security (are you surprised?). She made the Dean’s List every semester and graduated with honors. Upon graduation she went to work with a large computer company. She now travels throughout the state of Texas working for this company to solve problems. She is a leader and valued employee.
This quote by Haim Ginott is a reminder of the power of our relationship with the children who are placed in our care while in school.
“I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.”
Dr. Haim Ginott
In the case of Sasha, I recognized her leadership and problem-solving skills as well as her resilience. My task was to build a relationship and work with this student to nurture her strengths. I was able to look beyond the Sasha who had a feisty and sometimes combative personality and see a Sasha who was a leader. I also had to find a solution to a problem that may have prevented her from graduating.
To do this I had to weigh the decision to find an alternate course and give her a chance to graduate. I recognized that there were relationship problems between this teacher and Sasha. The teacher did not believe that Sasha could be successful and Sasha did not believe that she could be successful with this teacher. I did not blame the teacher or Sasha. Would I be sending the wrong message by seeking another solution? My decision to find an alternate route could be debated. I had to ask myself, what is the best plan for this student? The answer was then very simple and we moved forward. My goal was to build confidence and promote success. Sometimes we have to find creative solutions to school problems.
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