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First Graduates of the Right Path Program Earn Their Adult High School Diplomas

January 5, 2016


Steven Young, Jr., and Heather Fuller radiated pride and excitement as they received their diplomas from MATC's Adult High School at the college's Winter Commencement in December. A year ago, neither knew when or even if they would ever earn their diplomas. They owe their success in part to participating in MATC's new Right Path Program.

The program was started in fall 2014 to support the education of 18-25 year olds who have not finished high school or earned a GED/HSED. To qualify, a student must have a parent or guardian who is or has been incarcerated or on parole or probation. They also must meet a minimum academic level in testing.

Participants are awarded tuition, books, fees, monthly stipends and public transportation assistance. They receive academic support and tutoring, attend workshops to build success and take an occupational course each semester in addition to traditional high school classes. They are enrolled in classes in MATC's Adult High School, which is a part of MATC's School of Pre-College Education.

Inspired by Creative Corrections Education Foundation

MATC's Right Path Program was inspired by a scholarship program created by Percy H. Pitzer, a former prison warden. Along with his wife Sununt, he founded the Creative Corrections Education Foundation (CCEF), a non-profit organization that awards college scholarships to young people whose parents are incarcerated or on probation/parole.

MATC's program is different as the focus is on helping young people finish high school or a GED. It is funded through the MATC Foundation, Inc. CCEF supports MATC's Right Path Program by funding the program administrator position held by Marty Ordinans.

Studies show that young people who were raised by incarcerated parents/guardians are exponentially more likely than others to engage in criminal behavior. Half the young people currently in juvenile detention were raised by people with criminal records. Having poor role models, inadequate education and minimal job skills all lead to increased joblessness and a high likelihood of turning to criminal behavior.

Breaking the Cycle

"If we can break the cycle, we can turn their lives around," Ordinans said. "We try to meet the individual needs of each student in Right Path with the hopes of making a difference in their lives. I admire these students because of the challenges they face every day. They may have to find places to sleep or find transportation. They have all sorts of social challenges. For them to get up every day and move forward is a great effort. Without an education, these young people will continue to struggle to find a job that pays a living wage."

Young, 18, was incarcerated when he was recruited to enter the Right Path Program. Staff at the Milwaukee House of Corrections transport participants to and from jail for their MATC classes.

Setting an Example for Young Family Members

"I wasn't going to try to finish school till the corrections officer talked to me about the Right Path Program," said Young. "Then Marty came to talk to us to encourage us to try. It's a real good program to keep young people out of trouble. I came to MATC on with a plan. I have to set an example for my brother and sister and my little cousins. The young ones were following me and getting into trouble."

"I'm telling everyone who didn't graduate yet to get into this program because they'll get you right. People running the Right Path Program don't want you to take the same path your parents took. They want to stop the train of incarceration."

-Steven Young, Jr.

Young said he was surrounded by bad influences in high school. "It's easy to manipulate a young person's mind. They think it's cool to be in the streets doing stuff, but it's not. Jail is the consequence."

Like his father before him, Young said it took being in jail to get his priorities straight. "My dad is really successful now. When he saw me trying to do well, he wanted to help." Young's father, who works at Alro Steel, was able to help his son land a full-time job at the company processing and transporting steel. He bought him a car to help him get to work as well.

Plans to Enter MATC Welding Program

Young plans to enter MATC's welding technology associate degree program in August 2016. He wants to continue to work at Alro as much as possible while attending college full-time. "The company will pay my tuition if I get straight A's. That's a tall order, but I'm going to try."

Fuller, 25, was recruited to enter the Right Path Program when she was enrolled in an MATC GED program. She prefers the structure of the Adult High School classes. "I tried taking GED classes, but I kept getting sidetracked," she said. "I have a young daughter and I wanted to be at home with her. She's in three-year-old kindergarten now. This has been the best time for me to buckle down and get things done. There is an "end date" to Adult High School. I need structure in my life. Nothing before was the right fit for me."

Both Fuller and Young believe it is easier to succeed at MATC's Adult High School than it was in traditional high schools. They enjoy being in classes with older students who take learning seriously. "High school was too hard for me," Young said. "I had to get to an environment where people were more mature."

Showing Daughter the Right Way

Fuller said, "My life is a lot better now because I have a purpose. I'm showing my daughter the right way. I'm very blessed now. I thank God every night. I'm pleased and proud of myself for once."

She had a difficult early childhood and then spent years bouncing from home to home in foster care. Fuller particularly enjoys the "family-like" atmosphere of the Right Path Program. "We look at each other as family," she said. "I look forward to seeing everyone's face every day. The teachers, Marty, Miss Gloria (Dr. Gloria Pitchford-Nicholas, dean of MATC's School of Pre-College Education), and everybody have been wonderful. I've been helped through every part of this program."

Young echoed that sentiment. "We get plenty of help," he said. "They don't want to see anyone fail. It's very much like a family."

Both students said they appreciated the support they got on a daily basis from Ordinans. He serves as recruiter, coordinator, informal social worker and advocate for Right Path Program students.

Giving People a Chance

"Helping young people like Steven and Heather is a great reward for me personally and it is such a benefit for the community," Ordinans said. "Now these two young people have more options in their lives. They have a better chance for the future. We hope all the Right Path students will go on to school, here at MATC or elsewhere. It's about giving a chance to people who might not otherwise have that opportunity. If we can make a difference in their lives, it's a good place to be."

Both graduates are trying to recruit others in similar situations to join the program. Young said, "I'm telling everyone who didn't graduate yet to get into this program because they'll get you right. People running the Right Path Program don't want you to take the same path your parents took. They want to stop the train of incarceration."

For more information on the Right Path Program, visit: http://www.matc.edu/student/offerings/precollege/right-path.cfm