Making the grade

For some residents at the Fort Dodge Residential Correctional Facility, the goals of improving their lives and finding work are hampered by their lack of a high school diploma.

In the past four years, those residents have taken free classes at the RCF so that they can get their high school equivalency degree.

The program, which is offered with the help of Iowa Central Community College, has been successful.

Community Treatment Coordinator Jean Helmers said they wanted to offer classes to the residents. The RCF is working with Ann Waynar, Iowa Central’s adult education and literacy coordinator.

“We had our first graduate in March 2009,” Helmers said. “Many of these students had no intention of getting their degree and they only got in after our staff talked to them.”

Helmers said staff now encourage the residents to take part in the classes.

“We’re constantly pushing education here,” she said. “Even some of our residents who later returned to prison continued on with their education and got their degree in prison.”

Waynar said the program being offered at the facility benefits the residents.

“It makes the education more accessible,” she said. “They’re under supervision and everyone works together to attend class right there on the site.”

Getting an education is very important if residents want to move forward, according to Waynar.

“They can really propel themselves into a brighter future,” she said. “It re-enforces their success.”

John Hughel, an instructor with Iowa Central, visits the facility twice a week to teach students English, science and math.

“I’ve worked with at-risk students in Webster City before, and I see this as just an extension of that,” he said. “I’m thrilled to have that challenge.”

Hughel said the residents appreciate the classes.

“They have been very receptive,” he said. “The staff have been just excellent to work with too. The parole officers will refer students to me, and the staff in the facility are good about sending students up to class and reminding them to get up.”

“I haven’t had a bad experience with it at all,” he added.

Seeing a student complete the class and earn a degree is the most rewarding part of being a teacher, according to Hughel.

“For many, it’s their first time experiencing educational success,” he said. “It’s rewarding to me to see them be successful and know that they can be a good student.”

Hughel encourages his students to continue their education.

“The college is very good about offering counseling and admissions help,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful experience and I feel fortunate to have had it.”