KITTANNING, Pa. (AP) — Armstrong County Jail inmate Elizabeth Duncan, 29, has been doing time keeping busy with plenty of reading, writing and arithmetic so she can pass her high school equivalency test.
Duncan is among 15 inmates who attend classes once a week to build skills for college or trade school once they are released, or to earn a General Educational Development diploma. The GED tests will be offered for the first time at the jail within the next few months.
"I never graduated, so to get a GED is a big thing for me," Duncan said. "I had a daughter at a young age and had to raise her on my own — so I dropped out of high school."
Until now, inmates have had to wait until being released from jail to take the GED tests at open-site locations in Armstrong Educational Trust or Armstrong Career Link.
That will soon change, said David Hogue, jail warden.
"We're really close. Hopefully, by Christmas, we'll have someone pass the GED tests here," he said.
A jail staff member has been trained to administer the test, a computer station has been set up, and all that remains is for a web camera and fingerprint recognition software to be installed on the computer.
In the meantime, teacher Carrie Satterfield is preparing students for the test.
Satterfield, 43, has more than 20 years of teaching experience. She is employed by ARIN Intermediate Unit 28's Center for Education to teach adult basic education skills and to prepare inmates to take the GED tests. She works under the direction of the Armstrong School District for inmates earning their high school diplomas.
The classroom where she teaches the two-hour session each Tuesday has a dry erase board and several rows of desks. But unlike most classrooms, this one locks from the outside and is monitored by jail guards and cameras. There is no Internet access available. She teaches male inmates in a similar classroom in another part of the jail every Thursday.
Satterfield used a computerized tablet Tuesday to show female students how to navigate through a Microsoft Word document in preparation for the test.
Cora McElravy, 23, sat at the desk beside Duncan and quietly listened to Satterfield's instruction. She doesn't need the GED preparation since she earned her high school diploma and attended two years of college. But she faithfully attends every class Satterfield teaches, hoping to keep her mind sharp so she can enroll in college again once she is out.
"I like math," McElravy said. "I help a lot of people with math back at the pod."
Satterfield smiled as she commended McElravy for her dedication and for encouraging other inmates to come to class.
Both McElravy and Duncan are in jail on drug-related charges and do not have a release date yet.
Satterfield gets plenty of respect in the classroom and reflects it back to her students. She said she would rather not know why they ended up in jail.
"I know my students are in here for a reason but I never ask why," she said. "I'm here to help them, not judge them for what they've done.
"This is where I'm meant to be. It has been the most amazing job ever, because they truly, truly appreciate this opportunity. A lot of people have given up on them, but I won't. When they get out, they can be a productive member of society."
Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com