At a graduation ceremony today, Amy Clark is going to be one proud teacher.
She will watch the hard work her students put into their education pay off when they receive their GEDs and shake her hand as well as Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry’s hand.
Clark said her students, all women, will have many more opportunities in their future after they finish serving state prison sentences at the Johnson City jail.
Two of her students have already gone on to college, she said.
Clark, one of only two correctional officers in the state who also teach GED classes to inmates, said her work is much more satisfying now that she had the dual role.
“I’m a correctional officer ... with this I get to be a part of correcting their past issues,” Clark said.
Clark assumed the role of GED instructor in 2010 after budget cuts in the city school system’s adult education program eliminated classes in jail.
She became certified to teach GED and has some pretty good statistics already under her belt in two years.
“So far we’ve had 23 get their GED with me. Eleven of them scored over 500 with two over 600,” she said.
The minimum score on any section of the GED is 450 and the maximum is 800.
In 2009, the year before Clark took over the program, only one of 28 taking classes was eligible to graduate, she said.
On Saturday, six graduates will take part in the ceremony, but Clark also had 14 others who received their GED. Those women have since completed their prison sentences and cannot participate in the ceremony Saturday.
Clark said there are challenges in teaching because the women are on many different grade levels.
“When they first enter the program, they take a test that tells us what level they’re at,” she said.
From that point, participants have class time on Wednesday and Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. in reading, writing, math, social studies and science.
Everyone in the Johnson City jail has some type of job, so GED students have to learn how to manage their study time. Having the teacher nearby most of the time can be an advantage, and Clark said she encourages her students to ask questions even outside class time.
“I get asked questions every day. I tell them to utilize me if I’m here. Sometimes I’m busy and can’t answer right then, but I tell them to write down their questions and I’ll get to it,” she said.
Clark said it’s rewarding to see the women become more confident as they learn.
“They become more motivated. They believe they can break away from being an inmate, they have a future they can look forward to,” she said.
“I tell them, everybody had their toolbox in life and I want to give them more positive tools to put in theirs.”
When Clark gets to pass along the good news to a student that she has passed a test, “I can really see it in their face.
“It’s rewarding to see them pull themselves up from the bottom,” she said.