While most high schools in Durham had their graduations in the last couple of weeks, one special ceremony took place Thursday morning in the Durham County Detention Facility.
Teresa Sisco works as Durham Public Schools’ hospital homebound teacher. She also works with students in the detention facility. Sisco said school gives students something to focus on.
“We have the pep talks, and the don’t give up talks, and what can you control?” Sisco said. “You can control school, so let’s focus on that.”
Jonathan Shaw, 19, is awaiting trial for the murder of an 18-year-old. Shaw has been taking classes while awaiting trial. On Thursday, Shaw got his diploma as part of Hillside High School’s class of 2022.
“I’m just speechless,” Shaw said. “I can’t even say a lot, but I appreciate everybody who came today.”
Shaw credited Sisco with pushing him to succeed.
“I appreciate her a lot, and any time I needed help, she was always there for me,” Shaw said.
The program is a partnership with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. It’s one that Chief Johnny Hawkins, the director for dention services, said is a priority.
“When I see him, I see my sons,” Hawkins said. “When I see him, I see a community of African American individuals who face struggles and choices in life.”
Each participating student is connected to a DPS school, and Sisco said keeping the relationship is important.
Hillside Principal Dr. William Logan, attended Shaw’s ceremony.
“While you have a detour, you haven’t been denied,” Logan told Shaw.
Sisco pointed out, the students are in jail, not prison, and they could be back in their communities at any time.
“The more likely that they have been involved in an educational component here increases their chances of returning to their high school, because they have that connection,” Sisco said.
During Thursday’s ceremony, DPS officials thanked the sheriff’s office for the partnership.
Dr. Laverne Maddock-Perry is the Senior Executive Director of Student Support Services.
“Just allowing us to continue to support students when they are having some challenging situations, so that they can also continue their future pursuits,” she said.
Others, including Superintendent Dr. Pascal Mubenga and Deputy Superintendent Nakia Hardy, congratulated Shaw directly.
“In life, we can go through some circumstances, but that’s not going to determine our future,” Mubenga said.
“I’m so glad that you haven’t allowed your current circumstances to define or determine your future.” Hardy said. “Take this opportunity to reflect and learn.”
During the ceremony, Shaw thanked his family and God.
“I’m not going to let my circumstances stop me,” he said.
Eight students have graduated from the Durham Public Schools’ program while in the detention facility, but many others have gone back to school after being released.