Monday, January 30, 2012

Strickland Youth Center Expands GED Program

MOBILE, Alabama — As part of the educational services of Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast, Strickland Youth Center has begun providing onsite GED and adult basic education instruction for students 17 and older and 16-year-olds who have a school exemption.
The change is because of the efforts of Mobile County juvenile court Circuit Judge Edmond Naman in collaboration with Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast and is funded through the Gulf Communities Initiative of The Community Foundation of South Alabama.
“We have 18 months of funding and this will help us to partner with the court system and have additional GED instruction, direct GED instruction there at Strickland,” said Elizabeth Dominick, director of educational services for Goodwill Easter Seals.
“There’s a 50 percent drop-out rate in Mobile, and in some areas, it’s much higher,” Naman said. “This leads to a lifetime of living in poverty, and when people live in poverty, they live in crime and drug-infested areas. It opens them up to addictive problems and mental health issues. The only solution is to educate our children. Every opportunity we can take to improve lives for our children we need to take.”
The change is an expansion of Goodwill Easter Seals’ current GED program, which began in October 2008 when youthful offenders were offered the GED while in detention.
Dominick said that over the last three years about 75 or 80 students have earned the GED through the program.
Establishing an onsite classroom, held in a portable at Strickland Youth Center, will allow those not held in detention to attend the classes.
“Any time you make some progress toward education and literacy, it helps their chances,” said Goodwill Easter Seals GED instructor Lanny Wilson.
“Then they don’t feel trapped in a negative system. Any kind of success and progress helps that, to see other people being successful without being on the wrong end of the legal system. And with a GED, they can go to college or trade school or get other training to search out a living that’s legal.”
Most students, many who live in the area near Strickland, will be referred through the court system, which orders them to take the instruction.
“A lot of them live in bad areas near Strickland and a lot really need instruction close by where they can be checked up on by probation officers,” Dominick said. “We keep up with their probation officers and let them know how they’re doing.
“We decided if we’re going to continue this, we needed something to get an extra instructor to be on campus, but not inside Strickland,” Dominick said. “This GED is for those who when they get out are not going to go back to anything. They don’t have family or community support. Now, they’ve got this opportunity. That’s why we love being there.”
An instructor will come to the Strickland site twice each week on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to offer classes.
“We’ve had a lot of success, but wanted more,” Naman said, “which is why they’re going to move to our campus to do more. Probation officers have the authority to check on them and we’ll have it at hours that are good for them and will be pretty fluid. We’re really excited about it.”
Naman said he realized years ago that there is a connection between lack of education and juvenile offenses.
“When I was assistant DA, stats were showing children we were sending, the 16, 17, 18-year-old kids to prison for horrible robberies and murders; the prisons were full of high school drop-outs who had no hope for the future. The vast majority in prison or jails had no GED or high school diploma,” he said.
“When I became judge, I put the emphasis on education and truancy,” he said, “to try to bring in some building blocks for success.”
In 2007, Naman spearheaded a truancy program which he said has reduced recidivism by two-thirds among youthful offenders. Twenty percent of youths in the truancy program attained perfect attendance in the first semester the program began and 10 percent of them made the honor roll, he said.
Naman said the truancy program often reveals other family problems, such as abuse, neglect and substance addiction.
He said the key is offering families mental health services and abuse rehabilitationin addition to educational opportunities.
“Many times where there’s truancy, you’ll see a family in total disarray,” Naman said. “When you identify these problems and needs, there has to be a collaborative approach.
“We collaborate with Goodwill, University of South Alabama, DHR, Mobile Mental Health, the Bridge and AltaPointe. We bring all these partners in because there’s not one problem; there’s many. We work real close with them, so if you have a family in crisis, we can address all the problems.”
Naman said parents of truant children are often drop-outs who need better education and the GED programs of Goodwill Easter Seals provide for them as well.
“There was a mother with eight children who were not going to school,” said Naman. “She was doing very poorly and was very beaten down. We had to put her in jail a couple of times because the two older children were habitually truant.
“We had her in a mental health program and she started going. She started getting the kids up and went to the GED program herself. She received her GED in a short time and won an award. Now, she takes the kids to the library. It’s changed the whole complexion of her family and her life.”
To learn more about the educational services of Goodwill Easter Seals, visit
“When it works, it’s so beautiful to see,” Naman said. “It’s inspiring to me to keep on doing what we’re doing because it’s the right thing.”
This story was written by Christie Lovvorn, Press-Register Correspondent.
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