STILLWATER, Okla. (KFOR) – Oklahoma State University is teaming up with Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma to help Payne County Jail inmates receive their high school diplomas.
According to OSU, faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences are brought into the Payne Co. Jail as part of the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) program.
The program began in 2022 and teaches female inmates language arts, math, science and social studies courses. With the preparation, students are able to take the HiSET and receive their high school diplomas.
“The short-term impact of educating inmates in the jail is the morale and self-esteem boost,” said Capt. Reese Lane, Payne County Jail administrator. “The longer-term value comes as they are discharged to re-enter the community. From better employment opportunities to writing skills to having the ability to read and understand simple instructions, every part of life is so much richer with an education.”
OSU teaching associate professors Dr. Kathryn Weinland and Dr. Melissa Mills worked together to plan and teach social studies and math courses. Not long after, they were joined by fellow teaching associate professor Dr. Eric Howerton, who taught language arts classes. After the first six weeks, students took practice tests and showed great improvement.
“Watching our students’ confidence grow has been really gratifying,” Weinland said. “When each class starts, they seem unsure of themselves and a little overwhelmed, and then they transform into these hard-working students who ask questions and do the homework and accomplish more in the class than what they thought they could.”
OSU says the program has received funding from CCEOK, a CAS Community Engagement Grant as well as other donors. In March 2023, the Payne County Jail was officially made a paper-testing sight for the HiSET test.
“Some of our students had tears in their eyes when we told them that the jail was an approved testing site,” said Weinland, who serves as the HiSET program coordinator. “It really brought a new level of excitement and momentum for the women because they knew that they could have the chance to actually earn their diplomas while incarcerated.”
In May, CCEOK Education Site Coordinator Sister Catherine Martinez visited the facility from Tulsa to administer the first test at the jail.
“This work with the women is a way to be present to a population that is often underserved and ignored,” Martinez said. “Through our presence and our partnership with OSU, we are enabling women to have an opportunity for a better future for themselves. The tagline for Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma is ‘Love Changing Lives.’ Working with the individuals at Payne County Jail is a practical way to live out this tagline because there is no better way to express openness, acceptance and God’s love for another than to be present to them and assist them in creating a better future.”