Center’s education program keeps incarcerated teens in the game

For years, teens who spent long periods in juvenile detention didn’t have a way to earn credits toward a high school diploma, and that break in their education often created a barrier to graduating on time or sometimes graduating at all.

But the director of the Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center and the teacher who runs the center’s academic classes want that to change.

In the past, teens in juvenile detention could take classes that prepared them for the GED exam. If a student was at the center for 90 to 120 days, that was usually enough to prepare that teenager to take the test. In 2013, all of the juvenile detention students who took the GED passed it.

But last year that test was replaced by the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC. The new test is more rigorous, and it’s unlikely that students in juvenile detention — who are often one or more years behind in school — would be able to prepare well enough to pass it, detention center director Kristi Bruther and teacher John Wessic said.

Instead, the detention center is giving teens the chance to earn high school credits. Last fall, the detention center used federal Title I money it receives to buy 16 Chromebooks and licenses for 12 sets of online courses, similar to the courses students take at alternative academies in Johnson County schools.

Now, if a teen is sentenced to stay at the detention center for a month or longer, Wessic and Bruther want them to use the online courses to earn at least one high school credit every 30 days. Their hope is that the teens eventually can rejoin their high schools and earn their diplomas. Since August, 15 students have earned 33 credits through the detention center’s program.

Each day, the students complete work for the online classes and get help with lessons or assignments they don’t understand.

The juvenile detention center has space for 48 and typically has 10 to 20 juveniles sentenced to stay for periods of a few days to a few months. The ages of those at the detention center are 13 to 17. Most are 15 or 16 and were sent to the facility for offenses and crimes ranging from truancy to felonies.

Incarceration obviously interrupts the education of young offenders. The program at the county facility that focuses on earning online credits will give these teenagers more of a chance to graduate from high school, perhaps even with their original class.

At issue

Juvenile offenders’ educations are interrupted by incarceration.

Our point

A program that focuses on earning online credits will help young offenders keep on track to graduate from high school.