Eight credits shy of his diploma, a Franklin Community High School student got into some trouble and wound up being sentenced to 120 days in the Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center, a detention facility in Franklin, during the spring of his senior year.
While serving his time, the student was able to complete the necessary course work and graduate on time with his class.
Another 17-year-old from Martinsville who had severed ties with the school system there came to the detention center with just six high school credits, but he was able to make up an entire year’s worth of credits in 90 days.
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Though success stories of that magnitude are rare, those cases serve as examples of what can be accomplished through the detention center’s education program, its leaders say.
“You can make up some good ground here, because you’re focused on one course, and it’s for three hours a day, five days a week,” said John Wessic, an educator at the facility.
In February, the staff at the detention center celebrated a milestone achievement — 100 consecutive weeks with at least one teen earning a credit hour.
Though that may not sound like much, getting these particular teens to engage in classwork can be a difficult task. Many of those coming to the facility have either fallen behind their peers in school or have dropped out altogether.
Wessic said that while most of the kids coming to the center have a history of academic difficulty, he’s able to get a majority of them to make progress during their time there.
“If we can get them for 20 days, I can get them a credit,” he said. “If they’ll come and they can maintain a certain decorum of behavior, I can get them a credit.”
The detention center houses an average of 16 to 18 juveniles on any given day, according to director Kristi Bruther. The most common offenses are misdemeanor battery, property crimes or drug offenses, but felony charges, up to and including murder, are not unheard of.
The length of a teen’s stay can vary greatly; some are only at the center for a couple of days, while others are detained for as long as 120 days. But regardless of how long the sentence, every kid is put on an academic program.
The teens spend six hours a day on education. Half of that time — three one-hour blocks — is devoted to working on credits through the a digital curriculum that allows the detention center to build education plans that are tailored to each individual. Students from partnering high schools such as Franklin, Shelbyville and Whiteland can actually tap directly into their schools’ own programs.
Even many of the schools that don’t use that particular program, including Center Grove, will accept credits earned through the program because the courses meet state standards.
The other three hours of the school day can pay dividends, too.
One hour a day is devoted to physical education or recreation class, and teens who are detained long enough to log 30 hours of those classes can earn a PE credit at most high schools.
A book club hour allows teens to discuss various works together, and an elective hour, taught by Wessic, covers a wide range of topics — everything from United States history to basic life skills, such as etiquette or basic financial self-sufficiency.
Though not everyone takes advantage of the opportunity to earn credits, Wessic notes that most of the teens who are there will buy in and do at least some work, even if it’s just to avoid boredom.
“I’ve got a captive audience here,” he said.
One of the toughest parts for Wessic is not being able to find out whether the success stories that he witnesses at the center actually continue — he isn’t allowed to initiate contact with any residents once they’ve moved on. But he still gets to see how satisfying it can be for both him and the students when the light comes on.
“There’s something satisfying about passing that final exam and knowing that class — you’re done with it, it’s behind you and now you move on to the next thing,” Wessic said. “Well, these kids, who have not had any academic success, can get that, can feel that, and that’s a self-motivator right there, in my opinion.
“We’re just not successful with every one of them, but probably more than half realize that their personal initiative, and a little bit of work and some focus, can help turn it around.”