McLennan County students who stay at the Bill Logue Juvenile Justice Center for longer than 90 days have a higher chance of graduating with a GED or earning high school credit than the majority of incarcerated students across the country, according to a Southern Education Foundation report.

The study, released in April, found 9 percent of juvenile students nationwide — or fewer than one in 10 — enlisted in a detention facility for 90 days or longer earned their GEDs or high school diplomas.

McLennan County’s Juvenile Probation Department is slightly higher with 15 percent of long-term students earning their GEDs through an in-house program designed specifically for at-risk students.

Not all students who stay long-term at the Logue center are eligible for the program.

The GED program is offered to students who are at least 16 and so far behind it would be impossible for them to catch up enough to graduate high school before aging out.

“The (students) who are 16 years of age and probably in the seventh grade, we know they’re not going to stay in high school and we know they’re not going to graduate. So, what we try to do is get them through the GED program,” said Bobby Campos, McLennan County Juvenile Probation Department director.

In 2013, five boys enrolled in the program and four of them passed. One girl also enrolled in 2013 and passed.

“They’re so proud when they get that certificate because they have never gotten positive reinforcement,” Campos said.

The probation department only works with students up to age 17 and doesn’t track the number of high school diplomas earned after students are released.

It was unclear from the report whether students across the country must meet the same requirements to enter the program.

Reading levels

The struggle to increase graduation rates began about 20 years ago when Campos and his staff realized many of the students passing through the facility couldn’t read.

The average reading level of students who enter the Logue center is third grade, said Teri Merlino, Juvenile Probation Department assistant director.

“It’s a lot easier to act out in class and get sent to detention than admit you can’t read,” Campos said.

The center formed an in-house reading program, but it wasn’t until the probation department added staff and received judicial support in 2007 that the GED program started.

Since the program’s inception, 45 students have enrolled in the program and 38, or 80 percent, have passed the GED test.

The Logue center has 98 beds — 18 used for post-adjudication and 80 used for pre-adjudication stays.

Staff limitations only allow the center to keep 16 long-term students at a time.

Students who remain after adjudication enter the Court Ordered Residential Program Services, where they are required to take classes as a part of their release requirements.

The average stay for a student after adjudication is eight months.

There were 10 long-term students at the center as of Friday.

The center’s education coordinator, Bryan Sedberry, said when students enter CORPS they are given psychological evaluations, along with educational tests such as a reading comprehension exam to evaluate where the student is academically.

All of the Logue center’s curriculum is computer-based and adjusted to meet the child’s needs, said Toni Tresdale, lead teacher at Bill Logue.

Each student also receives one-on-one tutoring and therapy based on emotional or mental disabilities the child has, Sedberry said.

Merlino said if students in CORPS stay at least six months they increase their reading level by an average of two grades.

Lack of distractions

Campos said the success comes from a lack of distractions and added structure to the students’ lives.

Many of the students are behind simply because they haven’t gone to school consistently and their parents don’t take responsibility for them or make them go, he said. But when they come to CORPS, every moment of the day is accounted for and classes must be attended.

“It’s amazing. Some of these kids, because of the distractions they had when they were free, (weren’t) able to focus on their school studies,” Campos said. “So what’s happened, when they get back in the CORPS program, they’re not on drugs, (they’re) in a structured environment and they can really apply themselves.”

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