Sealock is first person to complete GED program through county jail
MACOMB — After it was first introduced two years ago, the iPathways GED program has its first graduate to have successfully completed the program while an inmate at the McDonough County Jail.
Trenton Sealock, 23, of Bushnell told the Voice and Tri States Public Radio that he moved back and forth between schools in the Macomb and Bushnell-Prairie City school districts before eventually dropping out of high school his sophomore year. Since then he has been working various odd jobs and been in and out of jail.
“For stupid crimes,” Sealock said. When asked why he was in jail this time, he responded: “It was a domestic violence thing. I didn’t commit it. It was just kind of bad terms.”
He noted that his father had been incarcerated, and he been brought up with a number of stepdads. Sealock said he pursued the GED program because he wanted a better life, and the program offered him that opportunity. “I figured I’d be dumb if I didn’t take it. I just wanted to do something decent with myself. I want my daughter to have a dad she’s proud of.” From start to finish, it took Sealock about eight weeks to finish complete the GED program.
“It’s kind of hard to pursue in the world. You’ve got all these things going on. I’m in jail obviously, so it’s not like I was doing the right things in the world. I wasn’t really focused like I could’ve been,” he said. With his GED completed, Sealock will next enter Spoon River College’s welding program when it starts up again in August.
“I want to work toward something. I’ve got this opportunity to get into the welding program at Spoon River. A lot of good people have been helping me. Why not better yourself? This has kind of opened my eyes up to the fact that I need change. I’ve worked for something, so why would I throw away that progress that I’ve been making?”
As of Wednesday — the date of Sealock’s interview with local media — he had been in jail for 62 days. He was released later that day following a court appearance.
Janet Young, adult education advisor at Spoon River College, said Sealock was able to put much more effort into the GED process than most others who enter the program. He also has a high reading level.
“It’s not often that it’s done in six to eight weeks,” Young said. She worked with McDonough County Jail Education Coordinator Emily Claros to put together study materials and arrange for the U.S. Constitution test, which is also part of the GED process. She also administers the GED test at the outreach center. Spoon River College has partnered with Western Illinois Workforce Investment. Workforce Investment has a program for those ages 17-24 “out of youth” that pays for truck driving, CNA and welding as the three popular certificate programs.
“When you are in a certificate program which lasts a year or less, you do not get federal financial aid for that. Since Trenton meets the age requirements for that, we are able to hook him up with that department so as soon as we can provide a transition from (jail), he can come over to Workforce Investment and then come over to classes at Spoon River College,” Young said.
Claros said Sealock studied “day and night,” three or four hours each jail shift. He also had access to study guides, including a Kaplan GED study book.
“Sealock has been doing good. As the recruiter I’m also a motivator with this. I’ve been working with Mr. John, Ms. Young and my co-workers,” she said. “It’s been a team effort. Everybody’s been very supportive of Sealock finishing…Right after when he came back from the last exam and he passed, I told him, ‘Guess what. You’ve earned your GED. That was the hardest step for you. When you get out, this is your next process. It’s all on you. If you come back, you know what you’re jeopardizing now. He’s been made fully aware of that.”
Claros plans on using Sealock’s example for other inmates coming into the jail in terms of what one can achieve if they set themselves to the task.
“This is another doorway; this is another path. That’s basically what I’m going to say to them when I approach them with the GED program.” She has worked with five or six others before Sealock, but they did not complete the program before being released from custody. It is not known if those individuals completed the program once they were on their own. There is an inmate who Claros is working with now who started the program a few days ago.
Brandon John, iPathways project manager, said Western Illinois University’s Center for the Application of Information Technologies has eight other self-contained WiFi boxes deployed to various correctional sites — six within Illinois and two others in Nevada and Michigan. The iPathways GED program, according to John, is a high school equivalency prep program containing multiple modules. Modules include math, science, social studies, language arts and consumer education. Once the modules are complete, the inmate is then taken to a site where the test can be conducted for the module. In this case, Sealock was taken to Spoon River College’s Outreach Center about a week ago to complete his last test.
John explained the CAIT-supplied WiFi box or “Oasis” produces its own limited wireless network that connects to the jail’s Chromebook in the jail library/study area.
“They can only see our connection with the box, which is the iPathways connection,” John said. Not only is Sealock the first to complete the iPathways program while inside the jail, but John said he is also the first to complete the program using one of the eight deployed WiFi program boxes for Illinois, Nevada and Michigan.
Paul Sweet, director of CAIT, said the program itself has had over a 90 percent success rate within the Illinois Department of Corrections among 33 facilities. CAIT has the iPathways program available at facilities throughout the United States, Canada and most recently South Africa. Sweet said a church organization in South Africa has obtained the program for helping people in that country further their education.
Sweet noted the iPathways program is a “tested product.”
“This program is not just about memorizing,” Sweet said. “You are learning a curriculum.”
The Chromebook laptop and initial electrical work to modify access in the study room came from the jail’s commissary fund; not taxpayer dollars. The commissary fund consists of money generated from the sale of snacks or luxury items to inmates after they make purchases from the jail.
Chief Deputy Nick Petitgout, administrator over the jail, said offering the GED program is a step toward helping inmates stop a repetitive cycle of criminal behavior and helps them to achieve a better place in society.
“It’s an opportunity for us not to see them again,” Petitgout said. “Education is the key. It’s the path to their success. It’s all set up for (Sealock) now. If he chooses to get up every morning and go to class…he can be a welder. This gives him the opportunity to be successful.”
Reach Jared DuBach by email at email@example.com.