Women's Storybook Project
Reprinted from The ECHO (TDCJ's offender newspaper)
Simple idea with big impact allows mothers to connect with children
In the early years of a child's development, it is of the utmost importance they know they are loved by their mothers. The bond between mother and child is sacred and crucial to the healthy mental and emotional development of a child. The importance of preserving this most primary of family relationships becomes even more critical when the mother is a convicted felon. One in five children with an incarcerated parent ends up in prison, according to Women's Storybook Project literature.
The nature of incarceration makes it very difficult to maintain an intimate connection. Physical barriers such as steel bars, brick walls, razor wire fences, long distance locations, restricted visitation and limited lines of communication isolate convicted mothers from society and from their children.
Fortunately, there are those who are motivated to help these Texas families overcome those barriers.
The Women's Storybook Project (WSP) helps mothers behind bars and their children stay emotionally connected in an exceptional and constructive fashion.
WSP is a non-profit organization that records incarcerated mothers reading stories and brief messages to their children, with tapes and new books mailed to their children. Founder and director of WSP, Judith Dullnig, heard about a similar program in Louisville, Ky., and was moved to start one in Texas. With assistance from A. Mooney, a social worker at TDCJ's Hilltop Unit, Dullnig designed the new program.
"Women's Storybook Project is a simple idea with big impact," Dullnig said. The biggest and most important impact is the one that it has on those for whom it was created - the children.
"From the beginning, there were stories about children taking the books and tapes to bed with them, playing the tape over and over, and bringing it with them to school for Show and Tell," she said. It has also been reported by the guardians of the children that they carry the tapes wherever they go an even talk back to them!
Response from the children is positive. One child wrote in to say, "Dear Whoever Gets This: I love hearing my mom's voice."
Another child said: "Hi! The Giving Tree was a great story. My mom reading it to me made me very happy. I am looking forward to my mom coming home soon. Thank you."
"I really was happy to receive the tape and book. It was wonderful to share this with my mom. I feel very close to her hearing her voice. Thank you for making this possible," said yet another child whose mother participated in the storybook program.
After the program was successfully implemented on the Hilltop Unit, it was implemented on the Lane Murray Unit. WSP currently exists on six of eight women's prisons -Mt. View, Woodman, Plane, Henley, Hilltop and Murray.
The heart and soul of WSP is volunteerism. WSP began in 2003 as part of the outreach program at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Austin. In those early days, WSP had only five volunteers. Today it boasts 150 volunteers representing all faiths, ages and career paths -- from high school students to retirees.
Volunteers makes approximately 68 visits to the women's units per year. In addition, they carry out the duties of storing, packaging and shipping approximately 350 books and tapes each month to children around the country.
Every prospective WSP volunteer must complete mandatory TDCJ volunteer training and periodic refresher sessions as required. Also, new volunteers must be trained in WSP's recording process. They travel to various female units up to four times before completing volunteer training.
Volunteer team leaders coordinate and oversee the challenging process of recording incarcerated mothers. There must be volunteers to facilitate the recording process and adequate security staff available.
There are many payoffs for the hard work. This project provides volunteers with a way to make a difference in the lives of others, and the positive affect on the institutions where it has been implemented cannot be denied. Mothers who whish to participate in WSP must have at least 90 days of good behavior, which has yielded a decrease in disciplinary infractions.
What happens behind prison walls is just a small part of the storytelling effort. WSP is non-profit, relying primarily on monetary donations to operate; fundraisers and book drives are constant events. WSP partners with individuals, corporations, civic groups, churches and students and staff of major universities. It employs this multi-strand system to obtain new books, financial donations and other needed materials.
Everything that happens concerning Women's Storybook Project is relayed in its quarterly newsletter "Book Notes", composed of contributions from volunteers, guardians and incarcerated mothers. Whether it is in the area of fundraising, conducting a book drive, instructing others on how to properly package the books, or shipping out a high volume of books from one unit, "Book Notes" lauds the exemplary achievements of volunteers who make WSP a success.
Windham School District (WSD) partners with the storybook program at several Texas prison sites, coordinating efforts with the WSD parenting program. As a result , WSP has been honored three times as a recipient of the Governor's Criminal Justice Volunteer Service Awards: twice as a WSD Judy Byrd Award recipient, and once as a TDCJ Susan Cranford Female Offender Program Award honoree.
This award-wining effort to strengthen the bond of incarcerated parents and children is continually improving.
"Women's Storybook Project has recently received approval to update its recording equipment to CD's," Dullnig said. "We are also hoping to provide an extension of WSP to the mother and child when she reenters the community. The extension will be called Storybook @ the Center."
Passionate volunteers, a vast support network of donors, and dedicated parents are connecting children with incarcerated mothers through reading and literature. Women's Storybook Project of Texas remains a simple idea with a very big impact.
Appeared in The ECHO: Vol. 85, No. 8, October 2013
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Annual Performance Report SY16 (2015-2016)
Thank you for taking the time to review Windham School District (WSD) programs and learn more about great things happening in correctional education in Texas.
Windham has undergone tremendous change in the past two years. The challenges of teaching in the correctional setting have required our school district to be continually improving course delivery and course offerings to keep students at the top of the achievement curve. Read through WSD’s Annual Performance Report for School Year 2015-2016 (SY16) and you will see a significant range of improvements resulting in greater success for students.
Two years ago Windham developed a plan to dramatically increase the number and type of vocational offerings in our schools while also advancing instructor training. Windham utilized the latest advances in predictive statistical analysis to guide these changes in coursework and to decide which new courses to add.
These new courses have been designed, developed, and implemented to reach even more students while elevating the skill level of the overall training program. This has been accomplished by first offering basic or core courses to students for mastery of basic skills. These basic skills are then applied to a variety of “next step” training within more specialized areas, guiding students to reach for higher achievement and better opportunities for employment. “Next step” training is high level and in high demand. Employers are seeking skilled tradesmen, so Windham is offering many Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math courses to meet the need. For example, Windham is offering courses in copper and fiber optic cabling, Computer Numerically Controlled machinery operations, Electronic Service Technician work, and other areas of employment.
Windham has also increased its success in awarding industry-recognized vocational certifications by more than three times the number accomplished three years ago: Windham delivered training leading to more than 18,000 industry certifications in SY16. Widespread vocational teacher training was also conducted this school year to further strengthen the vocational program while increasing student achievement. By changing the delivery of vocational instruction and improving teacher skill levels, students are receiving more advanced instruction and are better able to build a skill set within their areas of interest.
Life skills courses taught by Windham show a significant reduction in recidivism, particularly within the Cognitive Intervention Program (CIP) classes. The effectiveness of this program, along with that of the pre-release CHANGES program, has also been heightened through changes in content and delivery. With the support of expert researchers in the field of criminal thinking processes, Windham has completely rewritten CIP and CHANGES curriculum. Enhancements and measurable outcome assessments have also been added to these valuable programs. In addition, WSD has trained all teachers of life skills classes using the newest teaching techniques, and we are confident this training will further improve student performance.
Academic programs have also continued to improve through additional teacher training and expansion of services, including improvements for younger students and those with special needs. Through a large investment in technology, Windham has been able to provide computer-assisted learning components to improve student performance through blended approaches to instruction. The performance of students on assessments such as the Test of Adult Basic Education and the High School Equivalency Certificate (HSEC) test has shown improvement in course delivery, translating into student success in many areas. Windham also expanded offerings to reach more students by offering specialized teaching curriculum during WSD summer break. These Elective Personal Enrichment Classes are relevant and of high interest to students, with student response being overwhelmingly positive.
Windham continues to cultivate a higher quality of teaching, improved course offerings, and relevant training opportunities for our student population. As a result, we look forward to continued growth and achievement. It is also our
privilege to partner with other public and private agencies, entities, and individuals who are dedicated to helping incarcerated men and women change their lives and find careers. Great challenges require great cooperation, so we welcome these connections.
WSD is honored by the accomplishments of students who learn skills or obtain training from our classes, using it to reenter society, become contributing citizens, and rebuild families. Your interest and support are critical to meeting these challenges. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Together we’ll strengthen roadways leading to changed lives, a stronger workforce, and a better tomorrow. The possibilities for success are limitless.
Dr. Clint Carpenter,
Superintendent, Windham School District
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