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:

Message from WSD Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter: Thank you to the WSD Board of Trustees!While January is School Board Recognition Month, the Windham School District thanks the Texas Board of Criminal Justice for serving year round as its School Board.  These nine governor-appointed volunteers tackle the challenging job of governing one of the largest – and most unique -- school districts found in Texas.

Why I Teach for Windham: Brent Frailicks - A new recruitment video entitled "Why I Teach for Windham: Brent Frailicks" is now available on YouTube. Cognitive Intervention teacher Frailicks at the Moore Unit explains why he chooses to be a correctional educator, and his response is an affirmation of the valuable work done by all WSD teachers.

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.

Legislature gives WSD authority to grant high school diplomas, credit - The 84th Texas Legislative Session voted to give Windham School District (WSD) the authority to grant Texas high school credit for certain courses offered and the authority to grant a Texas High School Diploma for those offender students who meet State requirements for graduation. This legislation was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on May 19, 2015.

Partners and Pathways for Empowering Change
Windham School District’s Review of Achievement and Opportunity

The Windham School District (WSD) has been dedicated to empowering incarcerated men and women in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to transform their lives through academic and job training since 1969. In School Year 2016, many new initiatives and solutions were implemented to improve programming.

The WSD’s viable partnerships and educational efforts create second chances for brighter futures; however, effectively serving adult offenders with limited or non-existent academic experience presents real challenges.

The WSD recognizes its responsibility to constantly review programs and services for offenders to better prepare them for transition back into society.

Advancing the WSD to provide higher quality learning opportunities involves identifying and applying interventions that lead to a high probability of success.

 

 

Success Stories

Success Story IconNEW - They didn’t give up - "It makes me feel really good to know that these guys aren’t giving up just because they’re in prison."

Success Story IconNEW - I now have a good job - "My Windham teachers showed patience, effort, and kindness; they were very helpful"

Success Story IconFormer Windham student becomes successful electrician -
Garrett Stanley, a wonderful story of success in life after incarceration.

Success Story IconEducation changed my life -
"These opportunities [GED® classes or learning a trade] are great, but WSD is so much more than that; for me it was a change of life."

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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.
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.
An offender at the Polunsky Unit prepares for graduation after earning his GED through the Windham School District.
Female offenders in Gatesville, Texas, study to improve their literacy skills during a WSD academic class.
Each day WSD correctional educators pass through prison gates across Texas to work with men and women incarcerated within TDCJ.