TDCJ's Windham School District gives inmates a shot at academic success

 Offenders and their families feel a sense of accomplishment on graduation day

 

Ellis

Inmates of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Estelle, Ellis and Eastham units were all
smiles as they received their GED diplomas from guest speaker Barbara Cargill last
Saturday morning at the Windham School District graduation ceremony.  -Joshua Yates

 

By Cody Stark
THE HUNTSVILLE ITEM 
News Editor
March 8, 2014

 

 

HUNTSVILLE-When inmates enter the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system, they often have a history of academic failure, low self-esteem and function at a sixth-grade learning level.

Windham School District offers offenders the opportunity to turn things around and develop skills to help them once they are released from prison.

Last weekend, a graduation ceremony was held for 26 inmates who earned their General Educational Development, or GED, diplomas while serving their sentences in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Estelle, Ellis and Eastham units in Walker County. 

Barbara Cargill, chair of the State Board of Education, was the guest speaker at the Estelle Unit last weekend. The offenders' families were invited to the graduation ceremony.

GED prepare 1

The TDCJ inmate choir roused the crowd with songs of joy last Saturday
morning as many inmates prepared to receive their GED diplomas after
months of studying in the Windham School District.  -Joshua Yates

"We have a lot of very proud parents and grandparents that attend the graduation because for a lot of these fellows, this is the first time they have ever accomplished anything," said Frieda Spiller, who has been the Windham principal at the Estelle Unit since September.

"With them being in prison, there is a negative light cast on them and this is something positive that not only can they brag about, but their families can as well."

When inmates enter TDCJ they are tested to determine their academic level. They are placed in Windham programs based on an Individualized Treatment Plan, which outlines educational services for the offender, based on age, program availability, projected release date and need for academic, vocational and life skills programs.

"We have a lot of offenders who come into the system who are almost illiterate-emergent readers-and we put them through a series of literacy classes," Spiller said. "Our literacy classes are leveled out based on their academic abilities and they work their way through those classes until they obtain their GED."

Inmates are taught reading, math, science, social studies and language, which includes writing, to prepare for the GED test. They go to class for three hours and 15 minutes a day and follow a curriculum.

"The teachers get reports on weaknesses and strengths on each offender in their class," said Gary Clark, who has worked for Windham for 25 years and has been the principal at the Ellis and Estelle units for close to two years. "It is like a regular classroom where the teacher can break the offenders into groups to focus on the areas they struggle with."

Windham currently provides educational services at 88 prison facilities across the state. Aside from the literacy programs, inmates also have to opportunity to take classes in 34 vocational trade areas.

"They have to qualify to take vocational classes and usually their reading level has to be around fifth and seventh grade," Clark said. "Seventh grade is what we recommend but a principal can make a decision on a certain unit that a guy has been working hard, has a fifth-grade reading level but can be put in a bricklaying class or another class.

"A student who does not have a GED can take a vocational class, but they have to be concurrently enrolled in academics. We are going to get you the GED and the vocational skills to help you in the free world."

Clark said that sometimes there are offenders who are reluctant to go to class when they first get to prison. As they begin to climb through the academic levels and improve their education, things begin to change.

"They suddenly realize that their reading is getting better and they can write letters home," Clark said. "They begin to love math because they see it as a game. When at first they didn't want to come to class and didn't want to speak, they start showing up and talking more."

For a lot of the inmates, Windham allows them to achieve academic success for the first time in their lives. But the educators who help them reach those goals also take pride in their accomplishments.

"What we do is very rewarding because not only do you see the students grow academically, but you see a growth in their social behavior and how they communicate with other people," Spiller said.

"You know you did something that is going to positively affect their lives. You have equipped them with skills that will help them go out and get employment that will help them provide for their families, so the impact doesn't stop with the student."

 

Reprinted with permission of The Huntsville ITEM

 

Other articles that may interest you:

WSD Career and Technical Education: Preparing students for work, success - Each year it is our privilege to recognize Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers working behind the walls of Texas prisons. When offenders leave TDCJ, they must be able to make career connections, remain employed, and avoid returning to prison.  Training by Windham School District (WSD) CTE teachers is a critical part of this process, with students learning relevant, cutting-edge trade skills geared to meeting industry standards and the needs of the Texas workforce.

WSD & TDCJ: Gatesville tour for Governor's staff focuses on partnerships, successful re-entry efforts - Board of Trustees Chairman Dale Wainwright and Windham School District staff hosted eight members of Governor Greg Abbott's staff for a tour of the Woodman State Jail and maximum security Hughes Unit. They were joined by Chairman of the Board of Pardons and Parole David Gutierrez and other leadership from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

'Why I Teach for Windham' - Windham School District offers some of the best teaching jobs in Texas! Listen as one of WSD's award-winning teachers, Martha Estrada, reveals the reasons why she chooses to teach literacy behind prison walls.

PRISON EDUCATORS HONORED FOR EXCELLENCE
BEHIND THE RAZOR WIRE

Jody Addy

Excellence in teaching is being recognized within the state prison system as the Windham School District (WSD) announces the selection of Jody Addy of the Robertson Unit (Abilene) as the 2015 Lane Murray Excellence in Teaching Award winner. Addy and finalists Martha Estrada (Sanchez State Jail, El Paso) and Brent Frailicks (Moore Unit, Bonham) were nominated by their peers and selected through a rigorous screening process. The Lane Murray Excellence in Teaching Award is named for Dr. Lane Murray, pioneer superintendent of the WSD, which was formed in 1969.

Brent Frailicks

“We are proud to recognize the Excellence in Teaching winner and finalists as some of the best correctional educators in the state,” WSD Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter said. “Recognizing excellence in teaching is one of the most important things we can do. It is our privilege to honor these top three teachers, along with their peers across the state, for making WSD a success. Their enthusiasm, skill and dedication are inspirational to all of us, and life-changing for their students.”

Martha Estrada

Winner Jody Addy teaches literacy skills in the Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) lab at the Robertson Unit, Martha Estrada teaches a Literacy II/III class at the Sanchez State Jail, and Brent Frailicks is a Cognitive Intervention teacher at the Moore Unit.

These three teachers will be honored at the October WSD Board of Trustees meeting in Austin and will also represent WSD at Correctional Education Association meetings, staff development trainings, and other public gatherings sharing current information about correctional education.

 

More Information:

Abilene Reporter News, Tim Chipp

http://www.reporternews.com/news/education/abilene-prison-teacher-jody-addy-has-a-life-full-of-experiences-2ae2b825-db61-3d5f-e053-0100007fe97c-370391911.html


KTXS-TV, Alecea Rush

http://www.ktxs.com/news/abilene-teacher-awarded-for-2-decades-of-work-with-inmates/38048656


Message from Board Chairman Dale Wainwright - Under the capable leadership of Windham Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter, WSD employees have made ambitious and successful efforts to improve operations and student performance.

Success Stories

Success Story IconInspiration Success Story -
"You are inspiring people you haven’t even met!"

Success Story IconNEW - I learned to change my perspective - "It’s the education I learned in Cognitive Intervention class that changed me. I learned to change my perspective."

Success Story IconNEW - I can now make a living. I’m free - "The welding program helped me build character. Mr. Perry taught me how to talk like a welder..."

Success Story IconNEW - Thank you for this program - "My son received his GED through Windham School District. I just wanted to thank you for this program."

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WSD in Images

Female offenders in Gatesville, Texas, study to improve their literacy skills during a WSD academic class.
Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.
An offender at the Polunsky Unit prepares for graduation after earning his GED through the Windham School District.
Students at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit strengthen writing skills during a literacy class.
Auto specialization students in a West Texas prison learn auto maintenance skills, preparing themselves for future employment as professional mechanics.
Vocational and academic skills are integrated in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, such as this Small Engine Repair class in Huntsville, Texas.