North Carolina Department of Correction News - May 1999

Instructor at Harnett named Teacher of the Year

LILLINGTON — Dana Leebrick has come a long way since his school days when he used to struggle to get through his math classes and, at one point, was even kicked out of college for having such poor grades.

Now in his job as a GED math teacher for Central Carolina Community College at Harnett Correctional Institution, Leebrick strives to help others grasp the same basic mathematical concepts that he wrestled with as a student some 30 years ago. In fact, he does such a good job teaching math to the inmates at Harnett that he was selected as the 1999 Teacher of the Year by the North Carolina Correctional Education Association.

A teacher at Harnett for the past 27 years, Leebrick is widely respected for his competence in preparing his students for success in taking the GED test in mathematics. Marilyn Richardson, a social studies teacher at Morrison Youth Institution and immediate past director for the Correctional Education Association’s Region VIII, said Leebrick deserves the recognition he has received.

"Dana’s been around for 27 years at the same facility. That in itself deserves an award," she said. "But he is also a great teacher. He’s a good role model, and he has such enthusiasm for his work even after all these years."

Leebrick believes the difficulties he experienced as a student have helped him become a more effective teacher to the inmates, most who have had their own share of problems with school.

"School was a real struggle for me," he said. "I had trouble with math when I was in school, and it took me seven years just to get through college. So I know where these guys are coming from when they say they don’t think they can do it. I tell them I’ve been right where they are."

Leebrick said many of the students in his GED math class dropped out or were kicked out of school at an early age. Others were labeled slow or learning disabled and don’t believe that they are capable of learning. Math scares them all to death.

That’s where Leebrick steps in. He said he gets a lot of enjoyment out of taking an inmate who thinks he is incapable of learning and proving him wrong. Instead of trying to fill the inmates’ heads with a lot of mathematical rules that they must follow, Leebrick uses a different approach.

"Over the years, I’ve learned little tricks to help them such as talking in terms of money," he said. "If you have a math problem and you explain the problem in terms of money, they can pick it up, because money is interesting to them."

Leebrick said his goal is to teach the inmates enough to pass the GED test, not to make them mathematical scholars.

"If a guy does get his GED, it gives him more to work with when he gets out. Employers are looking for that extra bit of education these days," he said. "Almost invariably, when a man winds up getting his GED, he comes back and tells us how much it’s helped him."

Knowing that he is helping others is the main reason Leebrick has stayed in his position as a teacher at Harnett for nearly three decades. The other is that he doesn’t think he could handle teaching students in the public school system.

"I’d take prison any day over the public schools," he said. "I don’t think I could put up with all the discipline problems that take place in the public school system."

As North Carolina’s Correctional Education Teacher of the Year, Leebrick will now be considered for Teacher of the Year for Region VIII of the Correctional Education Association which encompasses most of the southeastern United States. u

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