DANVILLE, Va. – So far this school year, six juvenile inmates at the W.W. Moore Detention Center in Danville have earned their GED.
John Barbour has been a math teacher at the detention center for 17 years.
He said the record number of GED graduates is exciting.
"I think it's very exciting. I like this idea that we had, sort of, this sea change in what we're seeing the kids do," Barbour said.
Principal Rick Wieringo said normally only one or two inmates earn the certificate each year.
"The word is actually kind of getting out with some of the probation officers. They jokingly tell me, 'I hear that if I keep my student here a little bit longer you can get them their GED,'" Wieringo said.
He and the center's director, Michelle Johnson, sometimes also write letters to the court, asking for an inmate's time at the center to be extended so that they can finish the GED program.
"Maybe for the first time in their life they've achieved something. This is something that they can take with them wherever they go," Johnson said.
Inmates don't have to be at the center long in order to graduate, Wieringo said.
"We had two graduate this year. Both of them had less than five (high school) credits. One of them actually had two credits," Wieringo pointed out.
"He passed all the practice tests the very first time, took the GED test and passed all those the very first time. He went from thinking he was going to be a high school dropout to being a GED graduate in less than two months."
Even if an inmate doesn't graduate, the education they receive often still has an impact.
"We see kids that increase SOL scores or pass SOL tests, achieve honor roll status," Johnson said.
Some students graduate from a regular education program.
Barbour said his basic message is the same in both programs.
"We try to instill in them that there are doors that are now open to them," Barbour said.
He said many of the inmates are interested in using their education to pursue a career in the military.
Wieringo said the student who came in with only two high school credits and graduated with his GED now plans to go on to college.