By Nadine Ono.
When David* was released from San Bernardino County’s West Valley Detention Center in December 2017, he was ready to change his life. One of his first goals was to become self-sufficient and for that he needed to complete his high school education.
Luckily for David and other formerly incarcerated individuals, the San Bernardino County Probation Department has partnered with the Five Keys Charter School. David enrolled and has become an active class participant determined to successfully reenter the community and leave behind his former life that was dominated by substance abuse.
“I really appreciate what the probation officers have done for me,” said David. “I was surprised at all the programs that they offer. They are willing to help you if you are willing to help yourself.”
Five Keys operates high school diploma and GED programs in three of the county’s Day Reporting Centers (DRCs), as well as in all four detention centers. The students are referred to the voluntary program by their probation officers.
“We encourage them. It’s important to get a high school diploma,” explained San Bernardino Probation Officer Patrick Sapronetti. He oversees the Five Keys at the San Bernardino DRC, which includes referring students, monitoring the school activities and communicating with the on-site teaching staff. Individuals who left high school after the 10th grade can pursue their diploma, while those who left before are encouraged to work toward their GED.
Having the school inside the DRC is an advantage for the students said Five Keys Principal Aja Couso. “Being on-site in the probation office makes a world of difference, because if they have only one bus pass, they’re not going to be able to come to probation and go somewhere else for school.” She added, “There are so many issues that they’re dealing with and trying to overcome. We want to make it as easy and welcoming as possible.”
Sapronetti explained another advantage of having the school inside the DRC. “We also offer a workforce development class [not affiliated with Five Keys] and some in that class don’t have a high school diploma. It’s better to combine the two. So if they get a job and their high school diploma, it betters their opportunity for job advancement.”
In the two years Five Keys has worked with the county’s probation department, more than 200 people have gone through the program. The school is on track to graduate at least eight people this month.
“It’s a really big step for an adult to return to school,” said Couso. “We might get some [students] who are reluctant, but I think it’s because of the unknown and based on past experiences at school.”
Sapronetti applauds the school staff for keeping students involved. “It’s been a good program. The teacher is more involved with the defendants. You can see a change. You see the hesitancy when they first go into the program. Once they’re there, you see a change in them.”
David* agreed, saying “Five Keys is a very good school. It works for those that make the effort. I believe the teachers are very cool and are willing to work with you.”
After graduation, he plans to enroll in the Inland Career Education Center where he can complete the Security and Protective Services program offered in partnership with Southwestern Vocational College. His mother and family currently support him, but he is looking forward to supporting himself. “I can motivate myself, but it makes me happy to see them proud of my accomplishments.”
*Name has been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.