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Don Franks Helps Inmates Earn Their GED®

Don Franks Helps Inmates Earn Their GED®

ged instructordon franks 150.gifWakulla County School District General Educational  Development (GED®) instructor Don Franks (pictured at right) loves spending time around people.  Whether he is serving as a father, husband, youth sports official or a mentor, he loves to help people.

Franks spends most of his week helping students, young and old, learn so they can successfully complete the GED® testing program.  Two days of Franks’ week are spent in the Wakulla County Jail where he teaches local inmates and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees basic skills to help his adult students succeed in life.

Early in the week, Franks teaches females and later in the week it is time for the males to learn.  Franks is coming up on two years working with inmates in the jail and six years overall, including time in Leon County.

Students can study, learn and take as many section tests on math, science, social studies, reading and writing as they want.  More than 12 jail inmates have passed the GED® test in the past year.

“I love it,” said Franks. “I spent 14 years as a paralegal. I’ve always wanted to help people. I love the education field; teaching and helping people better themselves.”

Franks received his Paralegal Studies degree from Keiser College in Melbourne and received his Bachelor’s degree in Social Science from Florida State University. Franks hasn’t stopped learning and is finishing his Masters degree in Education Leadership at Florida A & M University.

“I like working in the institutions,” said Franks. “I find it very fulfilling. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Franks has a strong connection to the inmates as they interact during instructional time.

don franks and inmates for media003.gifFederal inmates also take advantage of the study time in the jail library as Franks instructed Haitian ICE detainees on a recent Thursday.

“I’m proud of that program,” said Sheriff David Harvey. “I took over the grant and inmates can get their GED®s right here at the jail. In some cases it has turned their lives around. They have accomplished something that they can be proud of. It gives them confidence. They can get jobs they couldn’t otherwise get.”

The sheriff added that he has bumped into former inmates in the community who express their gratitude for the learning opportunity.

Franks begins his work by determining the academic level of the student by “pinpointing where to start teaching” and helping them brush up on their strengths. He may work around the table with the students or stand up and teach in a classroom setting. “You have got to be diverse,” Franks said. “You absolutely have to know your students.”

Franks does not experience behavioral problems in class because “students are there because they want to be there.”

He has a busy schedule working days and evenings in both the jail and in the school district. He is also a U.S. Army Reservist with a rank of E-7 or Sergeant First Class. The 23-year military veteran spent a year working at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He works one weekend per month and two weeks per year with the Judge Advocate General (JAG) taking advantage of his legal skills as part of his reserve duty. He is based at Fort Gillam in Atlanta, Ga.

In 2008, approximately half of the students who took the GED® in jail received their diploma. The inmates can also continue their GED® studies if they are sent to the Department of Corrections.

“The students really seem to appreciate the program,” Franks said. “We’re just trying to better ourselves,” one inmate concluded.


This article originally published on April 8, 2010.

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