Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. congratulated the seven students from Sojourn High School, the alternative school at the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center, for earning their middle school and high school diplomas. Essex County Juvenile Detention Center Director Rev. Dennis Hughes and Sojourn High School Principal Rodney Evans Jenkins presided over the commencement ceremony held in the facility’s gymnasium. The Class of 2017 consisted of seven members: four received their high school diplomas, two received high school equivalency certification and one received a middle school diploma.

“At the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center, we work diligently to ensure that the youth in our facility receive a good education and are provided with the necessary skills to excel in their future endeavors, whether it’s in school or the workforce. On this day, we commend all of them for their dedication to their studies and achieving this milestone in their lives. This marks a step forward toward their future successes when they leave this facility,” DiVincenzo said.

The commencement address was given by Joyce Harley, Vice President of Administration and Finance at Essex County College. “Education is truly the foundation and first step of achievement to success. I hope this is one of your many first steps in your lives toward success,” she said. “You should be proud of yourself and what you have accomplished. You didn’t give up and worked hard. People younger than you are looking for you to pave the way for them, so let your dreams be your only boundaries,” Harley added, noting that the graduates can be role models for younger resident looking to turn their lives around.

“This is truly a proud moment to see young men reach this moment in their lives,” Hughes said. If you can work hard and earn your degree in this setting, you can achieve anything. You have to realize the work you did here will prepare you for anything you do in your lives,” he added.

“The teachers and staff are very proud of the Class of 2017. Today culminates all of your years of schooling, but it is also a new beginning. You will be a better person because of the faith others have placed in you to achieve. Don’t allow anyone to set limitation on your potential,” said Dr. Laurie W. Newell, Superintendent of the Essex Regional Educational Services Commission, which operates Sojourn High School.

Wearing caps and gowns from their respective hometown schools, the graduates spoke briefly about themselves, the obstacles they overcame and the people who helped and influenced them. After receiving their diplomas, they presented a single rose to a family member or friend who came to support them during the graduation.

The Essex County Juvenile Detention Center has an 8,000 book library on site and is the only detention facility in the State to offer a full 6½ hour school day for detainees. Sojourn High School is an alternative education program designed to serve both classified and non-classified at-risk students. Established in 1997, the program provides students with an alternative to traditional educational experience and maintains a low student to staff ratio. Sojourn High School consists of middle and high school students who have been pre-adjudicated, exhibit chronic discipline problems, and are in danger of not graduating. Students earn credits toward graduation by documenting skills demonstrated and proficiencies mastered. The SHS curriculum is based on the NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards and the student’s Individual Program Plan or Individual Educational Program. The school considers the interests, specific skills and life goals of all students in the instructional design.

 Note: Because of confidentiality, students’ names were not included in this press release. In addition, to maintain the safety and security of the Essex County Juvenile Detention Facility, photography and video equipment is not permitted inside.