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Juvenile transition program taking shape
State program at Youth Detention Center aims to aid re-entry, cut reoffending
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After months of planning and searching for an instructor, a Department of Juvenile Justice educational and workforce initiative is coming together at Gainesville’s Regional Youth Detention Center, program organizers said.

“The program is moving forward,” said Associate School Superintendent Audrey Armistad. “We had some stagnation in terms of getting the instructor over there. I think our biggest challenge now is to get kids engaged who are from that region.”

Transition to Success is a collaborative transition program between the Adult Education Program of the DJJ school system and Georgia Mountains Regional Workforce Development. The DJJ operates one of the largest school systems in the state, which was renamed the Georgia Preparatory Academy last year.

“The classroom is set up and there is a teacher there to provide for the students,” Armistad said. “A computer lab has been implemented with the technology, and there is a Smart board, if the teacher wants to use that.”

The program hired an instructor in December. If successful, the hope is to expand it beyond Gainesville to other parts of the state.

So far, two students have been identified for the program. The ideal total would be eight, said Zane Shelfer, a workforce and education specialist with the DJJ.

“Students have to meet our requirements for GED placement and they have to meet the Workforce Development criteria for services,” Shelfer said.

“We have discussed the possibility of expanding the program outside of the RYDC and into the community if we see a need to increase the number of students participating,” he added. “It would still be our kids, and I think ideally kids that were in Gainesville RYDC.”

So far, feedback from the RYDC has reflected a sense of excitement at the program’s potential, he said.

“Obtaining a GED is an excellent option for our students who have not been successful in traditional school or have had difficulty attending school regularly. The students are excited to have this option available to them,” Shelfer said.

The program is a win-win for the school, students and the communities they will return to, he said.

“Our focus is on re-entry and transition back into the community so our students will have some real-world skills and be prepared to work,” he said. “We believe this program is a step in increasing education goals, job training and employment, which in turn can reduce recidivism.”

The instructor, Terri Greene, has an extensive history in adult education and prepping students to pass the GED, Shelfer said.

“This is the first time that there’s a dedicated GED instructor at the RYCD. In the past they’ve just taught it when they needed to,” Shelfer said. “She has a background in teaching GED and in administering the test. It has changed for 2014, so it’s a brand new test.”

Resources across sectors are intersecting to make the program happen: The instructor is funded through the federal Workforce Investment Act and the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission is a state agency also funded by the WIA.

The commission’s workforce development office in fact approached the DJJ with the idea, Shelfer said. Other juvenile advocates said that while education programs have long existed, the challenge has been connecting teens to resources, particularly once they leave custody.

Maintaining an instructor with ties to Lanier Technical College and Workforce Development will help bridge students to other agencies as they transition, Shelfer said.

Setting such efforts in motion in a timely way is especially important for kids in RYDC custody, Shelfer said, where the stay is temporary, about 30 to 45 days.

“It’s the equivalent of an adult jail, so a child is not going to stay there for a long, long period of time,” he said.

And with the help of programs like Transition to Success, that short stay is also hopefully the offender’s last, Shelfer said.

“We’ve been a school system for 15 years, and our goal has always been to educate the kids so they could have a successful re-entry, whether it was back home, back to college or back to work,” he said. “The more educated they are, the less chance they’ll reoffend and come back into the system.”