The Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua, Hawaii, recently celebrated its first class of GED graduates through an innovative GED preparation program.

The program is a collaborative effort between Hawai’i Friends of Restorative Justice (HFRJ), the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC), Windward Community College (WCC), College of Social Sciences University of Hawai‘i (UH), and McKinley Community School for Adults (MCSA).

The outcomes of this GED peer tutoring program after just 12 weeks of its application show its remarkable value for helping women continue their education. The program trains imprisoned women who have at least a high school education to become tutors for their peers studying for the GED test. Since the program began in earnest in November 2021, two cohorts of peer tutors (10 women total) have completed a 20-hour training program in cooperative education, which taught them how to engage students in hands-on learning. The second tutor cohort completed their training in early June. The tutors are paid, and financial incentives are offered for women to complete the GED credential.

To study for the GED test with a poor academic history is especially challenging. The women studying for the GED test subjects in this program were educationally assessed before entering the program, and most only test at the 4th to 6th grade level. However, with the encouragement of their peer-tutors, they begin to see themselves as capable of passing the test. About 30 women enrolled in the program who worked for innumerable hours studying for the test (one stopped for personal reasons but came back and is currently working on passing the GED test). While the incentives helped get the women into the classroom to begin studying, it was the tutors’ persistence and consistently applied academic assistance and inspiration that helped the women learn the material to pass the GED test.

Within three months, 15 women had passed their GED test subjects and earned credentials. In addition, the learners were able to test remotely with the launch of the Online Proctored GED test program. “The students trusted their tutors, and they built relationships,” said Lance Jyo, Vice Principal of the McKinley Community School for Adults – Moanalua Campus. “I also must give credit to the wardens and their commitment to seeing this program succeed at their facility. The project team had to think outside of the box, and now we’re talking about doing this same model for men.” The McKinley Community School for Adults provides education services for state correctional facilities.

At the commencement ceremony, 15 women were recognized for earning their GED credentials, with three more earning credentials since the ceremony. Gov. David Ige, First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, and Rep. Linda Ichiyama were among the dignitaries in attendance. The program is actively training tutors for an additional cohort to help future graduates earn their credentials.

The key to the success of this program is all partners, Department of Public Services: Women’s Community Correctional Center, Hawai’i Friends for Restorative Justice, Windward Community College, College of Social Sciences (UHM) working collaboratively.

More information about the pilot program can be found in this recent article from Civil Beat.