Photos: Graduation day for students in Colorado's Youthful Offender System
Friday's graduation ceremony at Century High School in Pueblo looked like a typical outdoor ceremony, with programs used as fans, students wearing shades, and oldies radio blaring through speakers. But after the ceremony, the thirty graduates didn't get to leave the facility forever. In fact, they didn't even get to leave the campus for the day.
Photo by Emerald O'Brien A graduate of the Century High School Class of 2014 after the changing of the tassels on Friday.
Century High School is a program within Colorado's Youthful Offender System (YOS), a medium security prison housing offenders who committed a violent crime before their 21st birthday.
In their black caps and gowns, accented with maroon and white tassels to match their everyday uniforms, the Class of 2014 received sixteen General Education Development (GED) diplomas, thirteen high school diplomas and one Associates of Applied Science degree from Pueblo Community College. Three offenders who had previously received degrees from Adams State University were also honored.
Emerald O'Brien Members of the Century High School Class of 2014 talk as their fellow graduates receive diplomas.
"I like to see them accomplish something," said Laray McQueary, a 2011 Century graduate who was there to support the Class of 2014. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You may as well remember it while you are here."
Though significantly shorter than a typical high-school graduation, the ceremony recognized the graduates with just as many speakers and just as much applause. "It was good," graduate and student speaker Jarrell Roberts said. "It was the first real ceremony we've had."
Family members who attended the ceremony were able spend the rest of the day with their graduates. "Branden is so smart. To think that he had the opportunity to finish his degree and go on to college -- it's what every mom wants," said Jana Zinser, mother of graduate Branden Fox.
Emerald O'Brien Pueblo Community College graduate Ezra Haren receives his diploma from the president of PCC, Patty Erjavec.
The program is set up so that offenders can continue their education even after they are sentenced. When they first arrive at YOS, their educational records are assessed to determine what credits they need to earn before graduating. If they need too many credits to finish before they turn 21, they work toward a GED. If not, they aim for a high-school diploma.
Students attend classes and work seven periods a day. School is year-round, with three semesters and week-long breaks in between. The classes differ from semester to semester depending on which ones the students need.
Although YOS is specifically for violent offenders, YOS administrative-services manager Shirley Steinbeck noted that there are very few fights at school -- only two this year. "They say education is sacred," Steinbeck pointed out. "That [school] building is sacred, and they do know that."
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