Vanguard-Sentinel teacher helps inmate earn GED through life-changing program

Jun 18, 2024 | Featured, Around Ottawa County | 0 comments

Melissa Blair of Vanguard-Sentinel, right, teaches the Aspire GED program at the Seneca County Jail. She helped Joshua Lunsford, left, earn a GED. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

BY SHERI TRUSTY

For years, Joshua Lunsford, 44, faced a formidable obstacle to employment: he didn’t have a high school diploma. A stint in the Seneca County Jail created the opportunity to push past that barrier, and on June 7, he earned a General Education Diploma (GED), thanks to new jail program made possible by a collaboration between the Seneca County Jail and the GED program, Aspire, which is funded through a state grant.

Now, the future has endless opportunities for Lunsford.

“I always wanted to do this,” he said. “A lot of jobs require a GED, so I couldn’t even apply for them.”

Passing the GED is not easy. The students are tested in language arts, science, social studies and math.

“It was kind of hard. The math part held me back for a while,” Lunsford said.

Nevertheless, he pushed through the hard and grasped his longtime dream of earning his GED. As soon as he conquered that obstacle, he was already contemplating his next step.

“I may go to Terra for welding. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I didn’t have my GED,” he said.

Lunsford is the second graduate of the jail’s GED program, which is revolutionary for Northwest Ohio. Although many local jails offer GED classes, no others offer on-sight GED testing. In most local jails, inmates who complete the classes must wait until they are released before they can take the test. That pause between learning and testing can create barriers that keep them from ever obtaining a GED.

Joshua Lunsford, left, is the second inmate whose life has been changed because Seneca County Jail case manager, Grace Morehart, right, put in the work to become a GED proctor. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

“They may not have a car, or they may get sick. Life happens,” said Melissa Blair, a Vanguard-Sentinel teacher who served as the jail’s teacher for the GED program. “Sometimes, they never take the test.”

Seneca County Sheriff Fredrick Stevens said that statistics show that the sooner a student takes the GED test after completing classes, the more likely they are to pass. He is proud of Grace Morehart, a case manager at the jail, who put the time and effort into becoming a GED proctor so the jail could offer the program.

“Grace did a great job becoming a GED proctor so we could offer this,” Stevens said. “Now, we’re a one-stop-shop where inmates can take classes and get their GED. They can take the test here and turn their lives around.”

Lunsford’s accomplishment was celebrated at a graduation ceremony at the Seneca County Jail on June 11. Among those who attended to honor Lunsford were Stevens, Morehart, Blair and Seneca County Commissioner Bill Frankart.

“I am certainly glad that Sheriff Stevens has worked with his team to assist Joshua and others to help them get their GED and provide this lifechanging opportunity,” Frankart said. “I’m proud of what Joshua has accomplished.”

Seneca County Sheriff Fredrick Stevens, right, congratulates Joshua Lunsford on earning a GED during his June 11 graduation. (Photo by Sheri Trusty)

By offering the GED program, the Seneca County Jail helps inmates shed the negativity that weighed them down. Poor choices may have brought them to the jail, but the opportunity to make lifechanging choices can help them walk out stronger, more capable people.

“They bring in a lot of negative talk, talk that they say to themselves and that they’ve always heard,” Blair said. “When you’ve been told you’re never going to make it, and then you find a program that helps you make it, that’s a big deal.”

In jail, Lunsford heard the positive talk that helped him discover he is capable of doing great things.

“It feels good to earn my GED. It still seems surreal,” Lunsford said. “Melissa and Grace were always making me stay positive. They were an inspiration.”

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