Incarcerated at-risk youth graduate and pass the GED


A blended learning model helps incarcerated at-risk youth graduate and pass the GED

Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice

The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ), which operates School District #428, wants to provide youthful offenders with an education that will prepare them for further schooling or employment once they are released.

The district’s “primary purpose is to let the youth see that education is their ticket to success,” remarked Gloria Davis, the school superintendent.

Students come to school at one of IDJJ’s six youth centers with a broad range of abilities and special needs. They often have large gaps in their learning because their education has been interrupted. In many cases, having achieved little success in the past, they suffer from a sense of failure, poor self-confidence, and a lack of motivation.


Photograph by Gabe Walker, Juvenile Justice Specialist

Illinois Youth Center-Harrisburg staff, pictured L-R: Karen Crank, Terri Cobb, LaRae Harner, Shelly Dwyer, Jamie Johnson, Amanda Crabb, Jerica Howton, Brandi Smith, Matt Harriss, Rebecca Mueller, Denise Drue, Kathy Ragan, Mike Butler, Julie Copher, Jamie Rheaume, Rommel Hall, John Gamrat, and Eric Burns

Charged with meeting the unique needs of these at-risk youth, the schools had limited options. Students were frustrated, and it was difficult for the schools to provide personalized learning and a coherent, consistent educational experience.

In 2012, the IDJJ centers decided to implement GradPoint®, a set of online courses and services now part of the Pearson Connexus™ suite of offerings, as part of a blended learning model in order to better support their at-risk youth.

Students at the Illinois Youth Center-Harrisburg (IYC-Harrisburg), one of IDJJ’s six centers, now use the digital learning program for 99 percent of their course work in the school’s blended learning model. According to Michael Butler, the principal at IYC-Harrisburg, the program provides students with so many options that it meets their diverse academic needs. Students can work at their own pace, and using the program for credit recovery, they can gain high school credits more quickly than they could with a traditional program.

Kathy Ragan, an educator at IYC-Harrisburg, commented, “When students realize they can succeed in making up what they’ve missed in public school, they feel a sense of pride in that they really can learn and complete a class. This is a motivator and is the most helpful feature of the program.”

GradPoint gives students a sense of ownership in that they can set their pace. It’s helped them regain their confidence, which is a tremendous asset in the learning process.

Michael Butler, Principal, IYC-Harrisburg

GradPoint has also provided coherence and consistency for the at-risk youth whose education has been so interrupted. Students frequently move from center to center in the IDJJ system, but since all six centers use the digital program, students can resume their courses without interruption.

“They can start the English class they’re working on here at IYC-Harrisburg right back up when they go to IYC-Kewanee,” commented Rebecca Mueller, a teacher and the GradPoint administrator for IDJJ.

Using the digital learning program in a blended learning model, at-risk youth across the centers have met with success.

In 2015, the average grade IDJJ students received for completed courses was comparable to the program’s national average of 75 percent. For the IDJJ population as a whole, the average was 75.8 percent. For special education students, it was 76.7 percent (almost half of the IDJJ population has an IEP, an Individualized Education Program).

Since IDJJ began using the program, the number of students who received their high school diploma has doubled, even though the number of youth has dropped by 5 percent. In 2013, the first full year of the program’s implementation, sixty-five students received their diploma. In 2014, that number jumped to 110 and reached 133 in 2015.

Number of Students Receiving
a High School Diploma

IDJJ, 2013–2015


The percentage of students who passed the GED has also increased since IDJJ began using the digital program as part of a blended learning model. In 2013, when IDJJ used a traditional program for GED instruction, 46 percent of students passed the test. In 2015, when IDJJ used GradPoint for GED instruction, the figure grew to 60 percent.

“GradPoint has provided consistency and the ability to individualize,” concluded Davis. “It has helped to really give a positive way of addressing the youth’s educational needs.”

To learn more about IDJJ’s blended learning model, read the full success story.

Read the full success story

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