On a busy street in downtown Bridgeport, the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport takes aim at reducing recidivism by offering it’s own GED program. In 2008 Career Resources was led by Liz Dupont-Diehl in applying for a Program Improvement Project (PIP) Grant through the State of Connecticut Education Department (SDE). Unlike other grants being proposed at the time, Liz applied for the grant under the condition that the GED program would be run specifically for formerly incarcerated citizens.
“The thinking was that the group dynamic would be helpful to learning – everyone having experienced the same challenges,” Liz Dupont-Diehl commented. “At the time we were and are the only SDE PIP adult education program in the community working solely with ex-offenders.”
GED completion has been statistically proven to reduce national recidivism rates. In a study conducted by Brown University and Princeton University, recidivism rates reduced more than five percent for men who received their GED’s in prison. Outside of prison, GED completion has also been shown to lower rates of recidivism.
Chartered with a program new to Connecticut’s education system, Charlie Rosenthal of Career Resources was tasked with being the teacher for the ex-offenders. Charlie molded his class based on his prior education experience as an alternative education teacher and his past history working with ex-inmates. Though never incarcerated, Charlie describes himself as “comfortable with this kind of population.” He adds, “Working in alternative educational career that goes back to the sixties, I’ve learned that you can’t take yourself too seriously.”
His classroom is a hybrid of a computer lab and a standard high school classroom. Tables are aligned in rows with two computers per table. An archaic map hangs on the wall, nearly out of sight, seeming ancient in the new technology era. A white board is positioned next to the rows of desks. A few small tables are scattered around the white board.
Some students sit at the computers working on programs I can only describe as “Rosetta-Stone-ish,” though there are numbers instead of foreign words, and the intensity of the student ranges from slow to enthused. Another student is sitting at a table with a large test booklet open. He scribbles math equations down, which are most likely algebra (which is required for the GED certificate). Another student is sitting at a desk with another student and their conversation is focused on things non-academic: football, cars, etc.
The smorgasbord of student discipline is not accidental. Dan Braccio, the CO-OP program director, informs me why Charlie has structured his classroom like this. “Not everyone in the class needs to be on ‘page 17’ at the same time. Students are able to progress at their own pace with those subjects that are more difficult for them without pressure. I think that traditional classroom settings have been part of the reason that our students have dropped out of high school.”
Until we completely erase the perception of ex-offenders being ‘different’ from other people, we will continue to have this subset of people who don’t have opportunities and remain steeped in poverty.