Sprain Brook Academy commencement

Ten graduates receive high school diplomas through unique county-SWBOCES partnership

Ten Sprain Brook Academy students received high school diplomas at a commencement ceremony July 12 at the Westchester County Department of Correction. 

Family, mentors and other invited guests rose to their feet as the students filed into the jail’s Albert Memorial Chapel, clad in bright blue caps and gowns while ‘pomp and circumstance’ played. 

The ceremony began with an invocation by Evangelist Vicki Mills and opening remarks by Dr. Michele Darby, Sprain Brook Academy principal. Fighting back tears, Darby took time to showcase the accomplishments of each of the graduates, noting that the Southern Westchester BOCES educational team and the Department of Correction staff form close bonds with the young men and women. Dr. Darby noted that one of the graduates, Dashawn H., 18, of Mount Vernon, recently passed five Regents examinations in the span of a single week.

“It is vitally important to us as educators to help ensure that these students of ours have a sense of normalcy in their lives. That includes seeing that their parents and guardians have the opportunity to celebrate their achievements on a day such as this,” Dr. Darby said following the event.

Correction Commissioner Joseph K. Spano addressed the graduates, stating: “Westchester County commits a tremendous amount of resources to support you in your path forward. When you came here, you could have simply waited out your time but instead availed yourselves of these many opportunities offered to you. Do not get complacent with what you have accomplished today; it is not the last but instead the first of many steps along your journey.”    

Spano then offered the dais to Brooklyn-based gallery owner and artist Richard Beavers, who gave a powerful keynote address detailing his own involvement with the criminal justice system and, ultimately, his journey to become one of the most recognized African-American art gallery owners in the country. 

Beavers spoke about being born to a 16-year-old single mother, who placed emphasis on his education, travel and spirituality in his formative years. As an adolescent, Beavers succumbed to poor decisions and other societal factors present in 1980s New York City, including drug sales, multiple jail bids and street violence. While sitting in a Baltimore jail cell separated from his family, Beavers committed to extracting himself from the environment that played into his bad decisions; he returned home and got an entry-level position with MTV Networks. While the road was by no means easy, Richard prevailed and, in 2007, established the Richard Beavers Gallery, a contemporary fine art gallery that showcases pieces that depict life in an urban environment.  He told the students “There’s a saying: God looks out for babies and fools. You are neither. As you sit here today, you are far more prepared for success than I was when my choices placed me in a similar situation. Take what you have earned and use it to support yourselves, your families and your future.”

In closing the ceremony, First Deputy Commissioner Louis A. Molina discussed the holistic approach that Westchester County takes towards providing services to those in its care. Molina stated: “As an agency, we commit ourselves to this mission, from the Commissioner’s office to the frontlines, recognizing the importance that each stakeholder plays. This includes our uniformed staff and supervisors, our onsite service providers, spiritual care givers and many, many partners. Through a coordinated effort, we are breaking the cycle of incarceration and continuing to change lives.”

For many years, the County has partnered with Southern Westchester BOCES to ensure that young offenders as well as adult learners have the opportunity to pursue a high school diploma while in jail. Inmates under 19 years old are considered a ‘special needs’ population by County jail officials based upon their cognitive, social and developmental needs. As a result, they receive a wide array of educational, therapeutic and recovery-related programs. Several of today’s graduates have already received acceptance letters to Manhattan College, and are taking college-level courses at the jail and at no cost to taxpayers.

“We are grateful to Westchester County and to the Department of Correction for the opportunity to collaborate on the important mission of bringing educational services to these students, providing them a path by which to make a positive transition in their lives. This latest graduation ceremony was a vivid illustration of the success of our shared efforts,” stated Claudia Murphy, Senior Director of Adult, Community and Career Services for Southern Westchester BOCES.