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It was a proud moment for two inmates at Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail as they walked across a makeshift stage to receive their high school diplomas Thursday morning.
Marquis Joiner and Tyler Anguello were the first two inmates to receive their GEDs since VPRJ switched over to computerized tests earlier this summer.
Though the broader community was required to switch from pencil and paper to computerized tests as of January 2014, correctional facilities were given a waiver for 18 months so they would have adequate time to make the shift.
With a donation of computers from WJCC schools, VPRJ was able to set up its own computer lab and become an authorized PearsonVue testing center.
The computerized version of the GED exam differs in a few important ways from the paper and pencil version, said Leslie Bowie, WJCC’s lead teacher for adult education. Though it still covers language arts, mathematical reasoning, science and social studies, Bowie characterized the updated test as “more rigorous and more demanding,” with a particular emphasis on 21st century skills.
Inmates interested in obtaining their GEDs take part in a six-week course to prepare themselves. The class is a mixture of direct instruction, group work and practice tests in the computer lab.
Anguello and Joiner’s ceremony Thursday was well attended by family members, VPRJ administrators and volunteers, representatives from WJCC schools, James City County Supervisor John McGlennon and members of the upcoming fall 2015 GED class.
“This is key for [the graduates] as they prepare to return to the community,” Bowie said. “For one thing, they are more employable, but it’s also so confidence building.”
Bentley Boyd, illustrator of the “Chester the Crab” educational comic strips, was the keynote speaker at the ceremony. Throughout his speech, he emphasized the importance of making the most of the opportunities you are given.
“This diploma is the key that unlocks the door, but now you have to open it and walk through it yourself,” Boyd said.
After the ceremony, the graduates were able to attend a reception with their family members, at which both reflected on what getting their GEDs means to them.
“I see this as a stepping stone,” Joiner said. “I had trouble in school at an early age, and this is me getting back on the right path and being able to provide for my family.”
“I dropped out of high school and always regretted it,” Anguello said. “It wasn’t because I wasn’t raised well. My parents are great and they’re here today. I just wasn’t good at it. But now I can make them happy and start over.”