Whidbey Island mom joins first online graduating class

Jerri Sanchez and her mom, Bonnie Warren, celebrate Sanchez’s graduation with the first class from Western Governors University. - Rebecca Olson / The Record
Jerri Sanchez and her mom, Bonnie Warren, celebrate Sanchez’s graduation with the first class from Western Governors University.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson / The Record

Despite moving across the nation mid-school year and being a full-time mom, Jerri Sanchez, 41, earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education without changing universities, thanks to a little help from a South Whidbey mentor.

Sanchez is a stay-at-home mother of four children. Her husband is in the military. When her children reached school age, Sanchez took advantage of their time at school to go to college online through Western Governors University.

“I decided to give it a shot and it ended up being an amazing experience for me,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez graduated this spring with the first graduating class of the WGU Washington branch.

WGU is a nonprofit online university that was founded and supported by 19 U.S. governors. The idea was born in 1995 and the school began accepting students in 1999.

Despite starting her education in Highland Park, Ill. and transferring to Oak Harbor part way through, Sanchez said there was no pause in her education, which she completed in two and one-half years.

“I didn’t have to worry about ‘un-enrolling’ and finding a new university,” Sanchez said.

Each day, Sanchez would begin her classwork once her children left for school and be done by the time they got home, allowing her to still be a mom.

“It just really fit our lifestyle. It was perfect,” Sanchez said.

While university classes generally consist of students meeting with a teacher at a set class time, WGU is entirely different, Sanchez said. There are no teachers to report to, which worked fine for Sanchez.

“It’s a great experience. You have mentors all the way through,” Sanchez said, adding that she had one mentor throughout her entire time with the university and mentors for each individual class.

Sanchez’s classes offered a study guide listing readings and what students needed to do to complete the class, including watching videos and communicating with other students via online threads.

“The only thing that’s intimidating is you don’t have a classroom to go to or students to talk with, but you have the threads,” Sanchez said.

For her student teaching requirement, which Sanchez fulfilled at Crescent Harbor Elementary School in Oak Harbor, she had weekly meetings over the phone or computer to ensure she was fulfilling the requirements and to get any help.

As it turned out, Sanchez’s teacher success coordinator, Susie Richards, lives on South Whidbey.

“It was neat to have someone local and I finally got to meet her at graduation,” Sanchez said.

The tuition for WGU is set for each semester, no matter how many credits a student takes. Sanchez dedicated her time to taking as many classes as she could in each six-month semester at a cost of $2,890 per semester.

“I really enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anybody,” Sanchez said. “You just have to take that first step. To be honest, it was scary for me to go online; I’m used to brick and mortar schools.”

Sanchez’s advice for others looking at this path is “not to be leery of online schools. We live in a day and age now where this is not uncommon.”

She advises prospective students to do their research, “and find what’s for you.”

“I feel very prepared for my career field now,” Sanchez said. She plans to do substitute teaching until finding a more permanent teaching job.

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