Briscoe and Cotulla’s graduation: A step in the right direction

Windham School District (WSD) strives to provide appropriate educational programming and services to meet the needs of the inmate population and reduce recidivism by assisting offenders in becoming responsible members of their communities.

WSD, in partnership with Southwest Texas Junior College (SWTJC), is helping reduce recidivism through education. The fruits of this labor were seen at the Briscoe and Cotulla units’ GED/vocational and college graduation ceremony recently held at the Briscoe Unit.

The program began when the graduates entered in procession to the harmonies of the Briscoe Unit choir and band. As they marched toward their seats, visitors could see pride and honor on the faces of the graduates and hear excitement from family members and friends.

"I know that pursuing your education in this environment was tough and took a lot of commitment," said M. Daughtry, WSD principal at the Briscoe Unit. The same sentiment was echoed by other staff in attendance including teachers, counselors, correctional officers and wardens.

The ceremony acknowledged accomplishments of graduates from various educational programs offered in TDCJ/ WSD. Vocational certificates were awarded for trades in construction carpentry, landscape design, and electrical work, along with GED certificates. SWTJC, in partnership with WSD, awarded graduates certificates in college level construction carpentry, as well as associate degrees. In addition to awarding the graduates certifi cates and degrees for successfully completing their respective programs, the youngest graduate, the oldest graduate, the salutatorian and valedictorian were also acknowledged for their accomplishments.

Porter-img"I’m sure that there are some of my peers who didn’t plan on graduating this way and may think of this graduation as being less than the real thing. But the same amount of hard work that you put into these classes is no different than what they are doing in schools outside of these gates," said E. Porter, the college graduate who gave the commencement address.

"You should be proud of your accomplishments and understand that this was not given to you by chance. You all took the necessary steps required to go to the next level of your lives. You stayed focused in the midst of what can sometimes be a hectic and confusing environment and did what needed to be done," he said.

The college presentations then highlighted the accomplishments of vocational students who strengthened construction carpentry skills by building a double-wide sized model home on the grounds of the unit. The house will be relocated upon completion.

"The structure had to be built small enough to fit through the gates upon completion, but large enough for practical use because it will be converted into a church. We once offered a one-year certificate but now we offer a two-year associate degree that covers more aspects of the trade," said J. Lopez, who teaches the college carpentry program.

Final remarks reiterated the impact of the partnership between WSD and SWTJC.

"This is a great partnership . It’s a golden opportunity for the guys here to pursue their educations and prepare to return to society with something that can help themselves and their families," Daughtry said.

Other Success Stories that may interest you:

Former offender Granados gives hope to current students through WSD job expo - "I have been out [of prison] for five years, and it has been a very emotional day for me, coming back into a prison environment: the sights, the smells and the tattoos; it has definitely been a trip," J. Granados tells offenders while visiting the Torres Unit in Hondo, Texas. Granados has returned to prison to speak to current offenders, and he is intent on motivating others to succeed — and change. 

C-Tech connects Windham students with high tech skills, Increases offenders’ opportunities for freeworld jobs - Using interactive instruction, carefully monitored wire cutters, a hand-held testing device and a classroom partner's input, an offender in a Texas prison school cuts and creates his own wire/cable connection and plugs it into a telecommunications simulator. His teacher follows up with a tester, making sure the connection is successful and complete.

New Reading Horizons curriculum to help develop fluency, comprehension - Literacy teachers from Windham School District are training in a new reading curriculum, Reading Horizons, to assist students develop reading fluency and comprehension. "This program was chosen by WSD after being peer reviewed by the UT Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk," said Amy Lopez, WSD Division of Instruction director.

Media Honor Roll: WSD joins TASB to recognize outstanding journalists - Outstanding media representatives are honored annually by The Windham School District through participation in the Texas Association of School Board (TASB)’s Media Honor Roll initiative.

Windham School District was recently featured in a "Second Chances" report on KVIA-7 ABC news in El Paso.  Reporter Evan Folan spent time in the Sanchez State Jail speaking with Windham staff and students about their success stories.  This link takes you to this September, 2015 report: