(NewsUSA) – Impeccably green mountains overlook a picturesque New England landscape as families gaze upon capped and gowned graduates sitting along mahogany benches. One cannot help but think of this scene as suited only for institutions of the academic elite.
However, a different educational success occurs in this part of New Hampshire, where students wear jumpsuits and study in cells.
Grafton County Department of Corrections in North Haverhill, 35 miles north of Dartmouth College, prides itself on the number of inmates it’s able to graduate from the state’s new high school equivalency test called HiSET.
“We’re the HiSET jail -; we get inmates an education,” said correctional educator Kenn Stransky.
A teacher for the last 15 years, eight at the facility, Stransky has led numerous initiatives borrowed from more conventional education environments. For Stransky, to have a real impact on these students, it’s about creating an education-focused culture.
“A student is a student,” says Stransky on how he views this unique student population.
One such initiative is an alumni tutoring program, in which inmates who’ve earned their high school equivalency certificate help current inmates who are preparing to take the tests.
“I’m here only once a week, so that’s a limited opportunity, but their inmate peers are here all the time and can provide continuous support,” Stransky said.
Support for education success goes beyond those directly involved with the education program. Down to each correctional officer, everyone shares the responsibility to motivate inmates to enroll voluntarily and earn their high school equivalency.
“We want them to be a more prepared and better person when they leave the facility,” program officer Sgt. Mark Deem said. “Confidence that they could achieve something really makes a difference on whether we’ll see them again.”
Inmates tend to gain a sense of purpose by graduating from the program, which has been shown to reduce recidivism.
Inmates who participated in education programs have a 43 percent lower chance of recidivating than those who did not, according to a 2013 RAND Corporation study funded by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.
The facility’s honor graduate during this recent graduation is 45-year-old Mary Howard. Howard said that coming from a broken home, hanging around with the wrong crowd and illegal substance use led her to drop out of school early. However, the support and encouragement she received from fellow inmates and the facility’s staff kept her focused and driven.
“I have a completely different outlook on my future because there are more opportunities for me when I get out,” Howard said.