By Georgia A. Lythgoe, MS, SCI Laurel Highlands Principal
On October 6, SCI Laurel Highlands held its Graduation Ceremony to acknowledge Commonwealth Secondary Diplomas, General Education Development (GED) Certifications and International Certifications of Digital Literacy (ICDL). Thirty-two inmates participated in the ceremony, along with some of their friends, family and staff — and one very special reunion.
One of the guest speakers was Catherine Houck, an educator who at one point in her career taught one of the incarcerated graduates for third and fourth grades. She knew this student faced many challenges, yet he thrived in her class and showed great potential. She actually requested to move from third to fourth grade just to continue helping and teaching the young student.
Recently, she heard a guidance counselor saying the student’s name as the counselor was tracking down his transcript for Laurel Highlands. Houck realized it was the same boy she taught and believed in, so she sent the transcript herself with a note of encouragement to him. She was so proud he was receiving his high school diploma and happy to support him once again. Two years later, the student was set to receive his diploma, and Laurel Highlands Principal Georgia Lythgoe set out to track down Houck after only knowing her by her maiden name, which is what the student knew years ago. Lythgoe was able to track her down and invite her to the ceremony, where she spoke and shared their story.
While the student was medically unable to go to the ceremony, the Laurel Highlands team arranged for Houck to personally deliver his diploma and see him again. Making things even more special, she was the only visitor who attended the ceremony to support the graduate, as his mother recently passed away.
In addition to Houck, Tom Chernisky (Cambria County Commissioner) offered community support and recognized graduates for their accomplishments. One of our students gave an inspirational speech as he was only the second child in his family to receive a diploma. Mike Gent (Acting Regional Liaison) inspired inmates to achieve more milestones with success.
Research proves participation in education increases employment opportunities, breaks down racial and ethnic barriers, improves relations between staff members and the incarcerated and enhances prison self- esteem. We are proud of our graduates.