Armstrong jail makes GED diploma an attainable goal for inmates
For more than half a year, Rick Pyle has been hitting the books and putting in time studying for his high school equivalency tests in a classroom closed off from the outside world and patrolled by guards.
“I love math — it’s probably my favorite subject,” Pyle said while working out a problem on a whiteboard at the Armstrong County Jail.
The 22-year-old inmate has learned more than high school math while serving his 10-month sentence on a drunken driving conviction.
“I have a different outlook now on what education is worth. And a GED is something you need,” he said.
Pyle — scheduled for release Wednesday — has been jailed since May. Until recently, inmates like Pyle had to wait for a yearly visit by a GED proctor to take the high school equivalency tests. Inmates who got released before the test was administered missed or delayed earning their diploma.
But earlier this month, the jail became a certified closed-testing site. That means inmates enrolled in classes at the jail can take a computerized test whenever they are ready. Jail staff member Lt. Jessica Hicks has been able to administer the exams since becoming a certified test proctor in December.
Last week, Pyle passed all but one of the required subjects needed toward earning a GED diploma. He planned to take the remaining math portion shortly after midnight Wednesday morning, just hours before his release. If he passes, he’ll be the first “graduate” of the computer testing program at the jail.
“Good luck — you got this,” teacher Carrie Satterfield said as she shook his hand Tuesday afternoon.
Satterfield is employed by ARIN Intermediate Unit 28’s Center for Education and teaches inmates the adult basic education skills needed to prepare them for the GED tests.
“I’m so proud of my students. They’ve come so far,” said Satterfield, who has seven inmates she is preparing to take the GED exams.
Pyle hopes that upon release he will find work as a welder.
He said earning a GED certificate would give him an edge toward joining a union.
Another student inmate, Michael Harkabusic, 30, sat at a desk next to Pyle reading a social studies textbook. He plans to be one of the next inmates to pass the exam before his release in October. Usually he studies during classroom time or at night in his cell after finishing up with his daily work release schedule.
“It’s worth doing. It’s better to get something out of life than nothing,” Harkabusic said. “I might as well get it while I’m here, because when I get out I’ll be more worried about providing for my kids.”
Warden David Hogue credits Hicks and Satterfield for getting the program up and running at the jail.
“If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” Hogue said. “I don’t know of any other nearby jails doing it. We’re proud of the program and proud to be one of the first jails in the area to offer the GED program on computer.”
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.