While other students enjoyed a week away from school, GED and WorkKeys students at Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center remained in the classroom to further their plans for self-improvement.
Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis re-implemented the …
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Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis re-implemented the educational programs at the detention center after they were discontinued. He was recently given authority over the facility by Sumter and Lee counties.
"I refuse to call them inmates," said Alexandra Baten, the primary GED and WorkKeys instructor. Instead, she refers to those attending her classes as students.
"When you label somebody, that's what you've got," she said.
Baten instructs separate WorkKeys and GED class for male and female students throughout the week.
"Even though you're in here," she said, "don't think this has to stop you."
And even after you get your certification, she said, keep going.
"Doing things the right way is not always easy," Baten said. "It will take longer to make honest money, but don't give up."
Preparing students for the tests is just one aspect of the class, she said. Building up self-confidence is just as important, she said.
"I try to focus on the whole person," she said. "They can go further with more confidence."
It takes time to get over emotional barriers and build up confidence, Baten said. Sometimes that means letting the students vent for a few minutes during class.
As for the actual lesson, Baten starts with basic concepts such as 1+1 and simple punctuation so that no student is left behind during the course.
There is only one class for the male and female GED and WorkKeys classes, no matter the students' education level, she said.
And some of the advanced students serve as assistants when covering some class materials, she said. This is a very interactive classroom, she said.
Though detention centers are not known for being warm environments, the students in the GED and WorkKeys classes seem to find numerous opportunities to laugh.
"We get depressed in the pod when we don't get called to class," said 27-year-old Morgan, who is studying for the GED.
She said the class is more enjoyable because of the hands-on and highly attentive instruction from Baten.
The mother of five said she plans on pursuing a nursing degree when she is released so she can help take care of her family.
"I'm proud of the person I'm becoming," Morgan said.
Roger, 36, said he takes his education more seriously now than he did when he was in high school.
"You're never too old to get an education," he said.
When you get older, you realize you have responsibilities, and it's time to buckle down and get it right, he said.
Your education determines what kind of meal you eat, he said.
"This will further my job search," said Megan, 31, who plans to finish her radiology assistant degree and maybe study phlebotomy after completing two more WorkKeys assessments.
The mother of three said the class also helps pass the time and take your mind off your problems.
"When all is lost don't give up," she said.
Similar to Megan, 29-year-old Brandon is using the opportunity to build on his previous success with WorkKeys by re-taking the assessments to get higher scores. You can't go wrong with an education, he said.
While the opportunity itself is greatly appreciated by the students, a passionate instructor can also make a difference in a person's life.
Sean, 23, studied for the WorkKeys at the detention center in 2014 but left the class because the class was not as interactive as he would have liked.
More people are going to stay in the class and pass because Baten is more involved in the instruction, he said.
And the students' educational pursuits can continue outside of the detention center; students can apply to finish their classes at Sumter County Adult Education when they are released.
Missy, 37, said she plans to study Spanish at adult education to provide more opportunities as she prepares to start a home improvement business after she is released today.
Another student, 33-year-old Cedric from Pinewood, will also continue his education outside of the facility when he rejoins his classmates later this month to take the WorkKeys test at the adult education building after he is released in a few days.
You can make a career with WorkKeys, Cedric said. There's no expiration date on an education, he said.
Even though you're in jail, you still have an opportunity to achieve something, he said. "I'm happy for the opportunity to learn something while I'm in here."
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