Kenton County facility teaches incarcerated teens information technology skills
While most kids are getting ready to go back to school, some have been in class all summer at the Northern Kentucky Youth Development Center. It’s a secure detention center for incarcerated teenagers who have made a bad decision along the way. About forty boys are housed at the facility, where they go to school six hours a day and then go to class for more specialized skills in information technology. This is the only place in Kentucky that offers high schoolers the opportunity to earn certifications in trades like home audio repair, copper cabling, computer networking, robotics and masonry. They teach kids how to apply for a job, how to dress for a job, how to talk to adults — things we sometimes take for granted. "We are teaching them something at this point that nobody else is teaching them,” said Dave Gideon, rehab and IT instructor. “There's nobody out there that's doing this. We're actually finding the kids that can build a fiber-optic cable and splice a fiber-optic cable in case a storm comes and it gets ripped in half. Cincinnati Bell told me they cannot find applicants to do this." Jess Dykes, spokeswoman for Kenton County Schools, called Gideon a “unique and somewhat unorthodox teacher who is willing to step out of the box to bring meaningful educational opportunities to the incarcerated youth he serves.” “The courses are designed to provide focus on one particular skill, and the students combine these stackable certificates to give them a toolbox of skills that will allow them to pursue a career in Information Technology,” Dykes said in a news release. “Even if a student completes only one course they still receive that certificate and their name goes into a national database that can be accessed by potential employers.” Gideon said the biggest obstacle to the students’ success is the environment they go home to when they are released. He sees his job as steering them in the right path, taking off the training wheels and seeing what they can do. Fifteen-year-old Braden is one of those students who’s been there for a year and a half. Braden has completed classes and earned certifications in masonry, copper cabling and fiber optics. That last one is a skill that could earn him a job with Cincinnati Bell when he graduates, but Braden joked copper cabling might be a better fit because of his big hands. "I want to get as many credits as I can here, but also don't want to complete my high school here because I've always wanted to walk across the stage because I saw both my sisters do it,” Braden said. He’s the first African-American student in Kentucky to earn three certifications, but he’s not quite done yet. Home audio is next on his list at the center.