Newark, NJ – On Thursday, June 25th, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. joined Essex County Juvenile Detention Center Director Rev. Dennis Hughes and Essex Regional Educational Services Commission Superintendent/Sojourn High School Principal Dr. Jacqueline A. Young to announce that 22 students at the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center graduated from Sojourn High School and received their high school diploma or GED. The Class of 2015 consisted of 21 students from Essex County and one from Passaic County. Nine students earned their high school diploma and 13 students earned their GED. All graduates received citations from Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr.

“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 towards their future successes when they leave this facility,” DiVincenzo said.

“It was very important for me to be here today to congratulate you all on this outstanding achievement,” said Freeholder President Britnee N. Timberlake. “Your futures begin now. Don’t focus on you past, look forward, set goals and aspire to do great things. Each of you now have the foundation for success within you,” she added.

“I had to come here today because this is one of the most important days in the lives of these young people. But not only that, I wanted to applaud the family members who are here today. We must make sure that we continue to support these young men after they leave here because they can be anything they want to be and their most important support will come from their families,” said Deputy Chief of Staff William D. Payne. “I want all of you graduates to recognize that you have the ability to change the world if you believe in yourself. I want to encourage you to go out and learn as much as you can. Congratulations on this wonderful achievement,” he added.

The commencement address was given by Dr. Denise Dennis, President of Prepared Mind Coaching, LLC. While highlighting the graduation theme of ‘Success is a journey,’ she encouraged the graduates to ‘Find their WHY,’ or direction, by going back to their childhood to discover things they liked to do or were good at naturally, and thinking about their ultimate goals for the future. Through this exercise she was encouraging the graduates to identify similarities and their passions. “We talk about success being a journey, but where are we headed, what is our why.” said Dr. Dennis. “It is vital that you find your why, your own purpose in life, so you can set your own direction. Find a why that is your why, so that as you travel along your journey to success, you have a destination that you can be proud of,” she added.

“Being here motivated me and, when I wanted to quit, the teachers and staff didn’t let me. There were many times I wanted to give up on graduation, but I stand here today as a proud member of the Class of 2015. I want to thank Dr. Jacqueline Young and the Montclair Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. for doing the EMBODI program here because it helped me get my mind straight, taught me discipline and exposed me to new things,” said 2015 graduate J.T. He has been accepted to Hudson County Community College and will be pursuing a degree in culinary arts in the fall.

The EMBODI program is a signature program of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., which stands for Empowering Males to Build Opportunities for Developing Independence. The Montclair Alumnae Chapter runs this program at the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center for 10 months of the year, meeting with the student participants one Saturday a month from September to June.

At this very spirited event, the Sojourn Dance Ensemble, comprised of Sojourn students and staff, performed a praise dance and the Sojourn High School graduates sang their graduation song, “I Am The Greatest” by R. Kelly.

“I’ve had the pleasure for the last 13 years to run the Department of Citizen Services, which is comprised of eight divisions and the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center is very important to us. I want to commend and thank Director Dennis Hughes, Warden Gina Saunders, Superintendent Dr. Jacqueline A. Young and former ECJDC Director Charles Green for their leadership. This place has come a long way in the last 13 years,” said Citizen Services Director Anibal Ramos, Jr. “I want to extend my sincere congratulations to the graduates today. It is not the mistakes and missteps we make in life that define us, it is how we learn from those experiences and move forward. I am very proud of these young men and it’s our commitment as a department to continue to be here to support you,” he added.

“Congratulations to all the graduates. This is a special day for you all and your families. Use your time here as a catalyst to propel you forward in your future,” said Essex County Juvenile Detention Center Director Rev. Dennis Hughes.

“We are so proud of our Class of 2015 graduates today. This accomplishment is because of all of the hard work and dedication to academic excellence, regardless of where you are,” Essex Regional Educational Services Commission Superintendent/Sojourn High School Principal Dr. Jacqueline A. Young said. “You all have earned your high school diploma or GED today and have a renewed desire for educational achievement. This shows that you have the power to make better choices to achieve your future goals,” she added.

“I have been attending your graduation ceremonies for many years and this is always a wonderful event for me. This is such an accomplishment for these young men who are graduating today, we are so proud of them,” said the Honorable Assignment Judge Sallyanne Floria. “Graduates, your life is ahead of you. We look forward to great things as you all head down your path to go forward in the future,” she added.

Partnership with Essex County College

The Essex County Juvenile Detention Center worked with the Essex Regional Education Services Commission to begin offering college level courses to students through Sojourn High School at the Detention Center in Newark in January 2010. The course meets four times a week in lecture and recitation formats. All of the students have earned their high school diplomas or have passed the GED exam while at Sojourn High School. The Sojourn College Academy was created to support future academic advancement and the students also take English, math and social science courses, which are designed to prepare them for entry-level college courses. Students who have been in the academy have earned as many as 12-15 college credits.

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.

Anthony Puglisi
Lauren Shears