Some students in Bill Wood’s GED preparation course come from the school of hard knocks.
Twice a week, they file into a garage-sized classroom in the Dawson County detention center, where Wood teaches them what they’ll need to pass the upcoming exam.
With his help, inmates are working toward a formal education, one that could land them a job and get them back on their feet once they’re “on the outside.”
The GED outreach program at the detention center is overseen by Lanier Technical College’s Adult Learning Center, which provides instructors.
Money raised by a local organization pays for inmates to take the exam, which certifies the individual has high school-level academic skills.
Kathy Davis, the adult learning center’s lead instructor, said the Reading Education Association of Dawson County, or READ, raises $95 for each individual to take the test.
“We are one of many organizations READ assists, and they are instrumental in everything we do here,” Davis said.
Davis added that students currently in the program are on track to rival last year’s record number of 16 graduates.
A ceremony is held in June at the detention center for those who went through the preparation program and passed the exam.
The test consists of five subject areas: reading, writing, science, social studies and math. When teaching the subjects, Wood puts it in perspective for his students.
“It’s like anything else, how easy it is depends on how much effort you put into it,” Wood told a class of seven inmates Jan. 21.
Some of them wore bright orange suits, others had striped scrubs.
Wood had just announced that all of the inmates passed the test with flying colors.
Spontaneous applause and a shared smile or two spread around the room.
“Guys, don’t let this be the end of your education,” Wood said, his back to a dry-erase board. The students watched him, listening. “This is just the beginning on a long road.”
Keith Head, 24, was quick to respond.
“I’m going to go to Lanier Tech or somewhere once I get a job,” he said.
Jesse Walls, 21, said he’s also going to try and get into college when he’s released.
Taking the GED preparation program was a no-brainer, Walls said.
“You have this great opportunity of bettering yourself for when you get out,” he said.
Walls and Head both felt social studies was the toughest portion of the GED exam. With Wood’s help, however, they figured it out.
“He’s good, man,” Walls said. “He knows what he’s doing.”
Head agreed: “He puts it in a way you can understand it. He gives you mnemonic devices so you can remember.”
Wood said it’s all about the positive attitude of the students.
“Most of the guys that come to this program really work at it, and work very hard at it,” he said. “It’s rewarding when you see that light come on, when they truly understand what you’re teaching.”
Instructor Avery Parker, who teaches GED preparation courses for female inmates, said teaching at the detention center is “worth it when you see them putting so much effort into learning the material.”
Davis teaches classes too.
“You can see what you’re doing for the students, and that’s the payday,” said Davis, adding that the GED preparation course is one of the larger programs offered in Lanier Tech’s service area.
Davis said rates of recidivism, or repeated unlawful behavior, are reduced once inmates get a GED.
“They are able to get out and probably go to a job, or it’s much easier to find one,” she said.
Community support, Davis said, is key.
“This is only possible because we have funding and we have teachers willing to work for little or nothing,” she said. “We also have a good detention center with good personnel, who see the benefits of the education.”
Davis said the positive attitude of inmates is also a big part of what makes the program successful.
“I really think they want to make the best out of a bad situation,” she said. “Word of mouth has gotten around that it’s a good class, and that someone who cares about them is in there.”
To Head, taking the class was a step in the right direction.
“I figured I needed to make a change,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of time to think about your future when you’re in here.”