Newsroom > DHHS News Release

For Immediate Release
August 2, 2017

Russ Reno, Public Information Officer, Communications and Legislative Services, (office) 402-471-8287 or (cell) 402-450-7318,
Julie Naughton, Public Information Officer, Communications and Legislative Services, (office) 402-471-1695 or (cell) 402-405-7202,

NOTE TO EDITORS: This is the third of four news releases DHHS will send with school-related topics as families prepare for the start of classes this month.

DHHS Schools Help Youth Earn Credits, Graduate

LINCOLN—A year ago, Jane (not her name) was suffering from untreated mental illness and substance use disorder. Today, she is a high school graduate and working toward a productive future.

That bright look for the future, in Jane’s case, was courtesy of a school operated by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center (YRTC) in Geneva.

“Continuing a youth’s educational progress is critical to their rehabilitation,” said DHHS CEO Courtney Phillips. “Education is one of the most important assets a youth can earn while under our care. Their future success may very well hinge on not only earning a diploma, but also any encouragement we can instill in them to continue their education or to prepare for a vocation.”

Young men at the Hastings Regional Center, who are treated for chemical dependency issues, attend the Nebraska Youth Academy on campus. Youth at the Lincoln Regional Center’s Whitehall campus in Lincoln, which treats males who have sexually offended, take classes at Whitehall’s Morton School. Both schools offer high school credits to help young men stay on course to graduate from their home high school. 

The Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTCs) in Kearney for boys and Geneva for girls treat youth who have violated the law. Students not only can earn credits but they also may earn their diploma at the schools located on-campus, West Kearney High School or Geneva North High School.

Jane’s experience, in particular, caught the eye of Dr. Kenneth Zoucha, medical director for the Hastings Regional Center and YRTC-Geneva, because of her dramatic turnaround. After years of living with active and untreated mental illness and substance use disorder, she was very angry, defiant and scared. She ran away from the program in February, but was only gone for a day when she was located and brought back to YRTC by the treatment team

“With the help of the amazing team at YRTC-Geneva, she reengaged in the treatment program and turned her life around, including gaining all the requirements she needed for graduation,” said Dr. Zoucha.  “I am very proud of her.”

When students arrive at DHHS facilities, they are usually behind in high school credits.  According to John McArthur, principal at West Kearney High School, the initial step is to evaluate students’ academic standing. If test scores are low, more tests are conducted to further identify educational gaps. About 50 percent of students at YRTC-K have previously attended special education classes or have a verified disability, McArthur noted, adding that in some cases these students acted out their frustrations, leading them to be incarcerated.

Each youth studies courses like math, science and English and also can take electives in subjects including family life skills, career education, the building trades, and business and technology. Together, classes help youth prepare for life after they leave the facility whether it be work, community college or a four-year college.

The YRTCs also work with the Department of Labor, Vocational Rehabilitation and the Probation Department to help prepare the youth when they leave the facility. The Department of Labor conducts several tests to identify the youths’ strengths, whether it be educational or vocational. That’s followed by assistance to apply and interview for jobs. They also have an assigned representative to assist them when they arrive home.

“The youth at the YRTC arrive with turbulence and instability in their lives,” said Matt Asche, principal at Geneva North High. “Throughout their time here, they are regularly reminded that one certainty in life is that their education can never be taken away.”

Students at the DHHS schools study in a supportive environment where they hear the benefits of getting an education. For some students, completing their education turns into an expectation.

During calendar year 2016, a total of 1,995 credits were earned by youth at the Nebraska Youth Academy and transferred to their home schools, noted Principal Craig McLey. The youth averaged 29 credits each prior to discharge, which equates with a semester of credits.

At the YRTCs, students can earn up to 90 credits each calendar year. At Geneva North High, Asche said 35 youth graduated in 2015, 2016, and so far in 2017. Twenty-five students graduated from West Kearney in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and one earned his GED certificate.

Brenda Towns, staff assistant at Geneva North, praised the caring and dedication of school staff. “They give 100 percent in the best interests of the girls,” she said.