For Michael Crook and Shawn North, it has been a long road to high school graduation.
Both men are incarcerated at the Sedgwick County jail, where they received their high school diplomas in a ceremony Monday morning. Crook and North completed their required courses through an online diploma completion program.
Sherry Johnson has been a teacher at the jail for seven years. She said the 30 inmates currently enrolled in the diploma completion program benefit from its individualized approach.
“When we did the GED program, basically all we had was a book and a desk,” she said. “With the diploma completion program, students get individualized lessons and complete projects. They can focus on what it is they want to learn.”
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After he received his diploma, Crook stood behind the podium to address the audience.
“I’ve gained a lot, and I’ve lost a lot,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself. There have been times I wanted to give up, but my family and Ms. Sherry kept me going.”
North said Johnson’s encouragement was crucial to his success as well.
“When I thought I was going to quit, Ms. Sherry wouldn’t let me. She made sure I came to class,” North said.
North said plans to enroll in college correspondence courses now that he has received his high school diploma. He said he wants to study veterinary medicine so he can work with horses.
Crook said he hopes to enroll at Wichita State University when he finishes his sentence.
“I know it sounds kind of big, but that’s what I want to do,” Crook said.
Major Glenn Kurtz said it makes sense to offer the degree completion option because it gives inmates more opportunities when they return to their communities.
“These are the folks that’ll be standing behind us in the grocery store,” Kurtz said.
Crook is serving time for an escape from custody. North is in jail awaiting trial.
Johnson, the teacher, said her top priority is offering encouragement to her students.
“We talk a lot about choices,” she said. “I don’t sugarcoat it; I tell them the only way to have a different life is through their actions.
“For a lot of these guys, no one has ever given them encouragement before. If you tell them, ‘You can do this, I believe in you,’ nine times out of 10, that’s enough for them to get through it.”