GED opens doors for proud graduate

Written by Melanie G. Snyder on Thursday - June 19, 2014.

GED opens doors for proud graduate

On Thursday evening, June 12, Zena Gunsallus did something that, 10 years ago, she didn't know if she'd ever be able to do. She walked across the stage at McCaskey East High School wearing cap and gown to accept her GED diploma. Five days later, on Tuesday, June 17, she had another graduation: from Lancaster County Drug Court.

"I dropped out of school when I was 17 in my senior year of high school because I was pregnant," Gunsallus explains. "I didn't have a great life." She struggled with addiction, and wound up in and out of Lancaster County Prison. She spent four years trying to complete Drug Court.

"I made plenty of mistakes," she admits. "Finally, I realized I needed to change my life," she says. 

"I had always known I wanted to go to beauty school, but just never had the motivation." She knew that to get into beauty school, she'd have to have her GED. She started taking GED classes offered by IU13 at Lancaster County Prison through a US Department of Education grant program called PRSCEO - Promoting Reentry Success through Continuity of Educational Opportunities. The PRSCEO program was initiated at the federal level because "a growing body of evidence shows that providing offenders with education and training increases their employment opportunities, addresses their cognitive deficits, and helps reduce their likelihood of recidivating."*

Lancaster County is one of only three sites in the nation that has received a grant from the US Department of Education to implement this model. Lancaster County's IU13 Adult Education and the Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO) partnered to submit the grant application and have been working closely together since July 1, 2013 to implement the program here. The program includes GED Preparation classes and Adult Basic Education classes at both Lancaster County Prison and PA CareerLink of Lancaster County. Participants also receive assistance with career and education planning and have the opportunity to participate in supportive reentry services through the RMO as well as reentry employment services like the Ready2Work program and occupational skills trainings at the CareerLink. Trish Link, Assistant Adult Education Director for IU-13, manages the project. 

The GED classes for women at LCP are taught by IU13 instructor Mary Edith Leichliter.

"If it wasn't for Mary Edith at the prison, I would not have pursued this at that time," Gunsallus says.

Several weeks into her GED classes at the prison . . .