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:

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. 

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: 

WSD expands vocational programming, course lengths, training opportunities - WSD is proud to share its plan for program expansion through an ongoing series of changes and improvement in the Vocational Trades and Career and Technical Education certifications. New course lengths, course offerings and training opportunities are becoming available to men and women in TDCJ. In the past, courses in vocational trades matched the course requirements for Windham, rather than just the hours needed for certification. While completing the total hours in a course will provide additional skill practice, many students finished the skills much faster than the course was completed.

WSD donates more than $20,000 statewide in 2015 State Employee Charitable Campaign - Windham School District employees opened their hearts and checkbooks in September and October of 2015, donating $20,000.82 to the State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC). Using payroll deduction, cash or check donations and profits from a statewide sale of "We Are Windham" polo and t-shirts, WSD employees generously made gifts to local, state and national charities of their choice.

Un mensaje del Superintendente Dr. Clint Carpenter & Martha Fields, Director Interino de la División de Instrucción:

¡GRACIAS, Directores de Windham, por su sobresaliente trabajo al dirigir nuestras escuelas!

El Gobernador de Texas Greg Abbott proclamó el mes de octubre de 2017 como el "Mes de los Directores" en Texas. En todo el país, los estados se están tomando el tiempo para agradecer a los directores por su dedicación para crear éxito estudiantil y seguridad escolar. ¡Los directores del Distrito Escolar de Windham no son una excepción!

Se espera que los directores sean líderes educativos, disciplinarios, constructores de comunidad, voceros, analistas de presupuesto y guardianes de mandatos e iniciativas de políticas. Los directores establecen el tono académico para sus escuelas y trabajan en colaboración con los maestros para establecer objetivos de rendimiento y mantener altos estándares de currículo. A pesar de los desafíos de trabajar dentro de los confines físicos del Departamento de Justicia Criminal de Texas, estos educadores proporcionan el liderazgo, el trabajo duro y la visión necesarios para ayudar a sus estudiantes adultos a reconstruir sus vidas y alcanzar una segunda oportunidad.

Estamos sinceramente agradecidos con los Directores de WSD por el arduo trabajo diario, la experiencia y la pasión que comparten para ayudar a otros a transformar sus vidas. ¡Están haciendo la diferencia todos los días! Por favor dígales "¡Gracias!" Por un trabajo bien hecho!

WSD Principals… and district staff meet at “Blueprint Training” in Navasota to map out plans for focused leadership strategies, improved learning experiences and a successful year for Windham students and programs.

Directores de WSD ... y el personal del distrito se reúnen en el "Blueprint Training" en Navasota para trazar planes de estrategias de liderazgo enfocadas, experiencias de aprendizaje mejoradas y un año exitoso para los estudiantes y programas de Windham.

Success Stories

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 IconRole Model - Success Story -
"I talk to them about how important education is and how hard I'm trying to prove that to them."

Success Story Icon NEW - Tools to change my own life - "What can I say about Autobrakes? I guess I need to start by saying it's one of the best classes I have ever taken!"

Success Story IconNEW - Making a positive impact - "I am very excited to be learning a new trade and to be securing employment for myself in the 'real world.'"

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WSD in Images

Vocational and academic skills are integrated in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, such as this Small Engine Repair class in Huntsville, Texas.
Female offenders in Gatesville, Texas, study to improve their literacy skills during a WSD academic class.
An offender at the Polunsky Unit prepares for graduation after earning his GED through the Windham School District.
WSD’s Business and Image Management & Multimedia (BIMM) class offers students the opportunity to learn viable graphic arts and computer skills, helping them prepare for jobs after release.
Auto specialization students in a West Texas prison learn auto maintenance skills, preparing themselves for future employment as professional mechanics.
Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.