New Castle News

August 29, 2013

New Castle teachers working with young jail inmates

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — New Castle teachers are educating youths charged as adults and housed in the Lawrence County jail.

District teachers are providing classroom instruction with the goal of the younger inmates receiving a high school diploma or attaining their GEDs — General Education Development certificate, the equivalent of a high school diploma.

The district is responsible for providing the education at the jail, because that facility lies within the school district boundaries, superintendent John Sarandrea explained.

Inmates under 21 years old are eligible and are given the instruction only if they desire it, he said.

If an incarcerated juvenile is from a school district outside the city and opts to take advantage of the program, that district must reimburse New Castle for that education, Sarandrea said.

Jennifer Salem, a jail treatment counselor who helps coordinate the program, praised New Castle teachers.

“They go above and beyond to help these people,” she said. “A lot of people kind of forget about these kids. New Castle does a phenomenal job.”

The jail has set aside its treatment facility as a makeshift classroom, complete with a television and dry-erase board, where the learning goes on daily.

Right now, 10 inmates are enrolled, the youngest being 17, Salem said.

They are escorted from the cell area to the classroom and taught all the courses they need to graduate. Those include math, reading, English, social studies and science.

“We do an under-21 report for anyone who comes into the jail,” Salem explained. “We talk to them about the school and we sign them up for school and fax the information to the district’s administration building and get them into classes.

“The teachers work with the students on a daily basis, get their transcripts, see where they were with their grades and help them.”

When the students have enough credits to graduate, they get diplomas or, depending on their age, a GED, she explained.

Two of the jail’s students recently received New Castle school district diplomas, she said.

Currently, the jail has 21 inmates who are younger than 21, Salem said. Two of those already have diplomas and the others already have GEDs or diplomas from other schools.

Of the 10 who are left, “no one said no to school,” she said. “Everybody wanted it.”

Earlier this month, the New Castle school board approved the prison education program for the 2013-14 school year and hired four teachers and two substitutes at a rate of $20 per hour. The instructors are Mark DeMonaco, Geri Hobel, Ralph Litrenta and Robert Natale Jr. The substitutes are Ronald DePorzio and Tom Black. The program at the jail began Monday.

Salem said the New Castle teachers “treat the kids with a lot of respect. I can’t say enough positive about how well New Castle works with us.

“If we can help these students, it’s one step closer to doing something positive with their lives,” she said. “We try to get them on the right track so they can move forward instead of backward.”

Inmates older than 21 also have a shot at an education, Salem noted. They can earn a GEDs through a different agency that works with the jail.

“They could be in their 70s and still get a GED.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)