Austin American-Statesman - Armed with GEDs®, inmates can triumph over their pasts

AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, February 10, 2008

 

Austin American-Statesman Editor Rich Oppel recently served as a GED® graduation speaker at the Travis State Jail. He did a fantastic job as speaker, and he followed up with a very positive column about WSD and its GED® program.


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Armed with GEDs®, inmates can triumph over their pasts
Rich Oppel

On a recent morning, at the end of a long road that drops into an old pasture and emerges at a rectangle of high fences in far eastern Travis County, pride had to make way for pain in a locked and guarded room.

Two hours after I entered this emotional scene, I drove out, passing a kennel of baying bloodhounds, and questions lingered:

Why the pain? Is it properly distributed?

This was graduation day in the Windham School District. Never heard of Windham? That's because its schools are scattered within the walls and fences of units of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

This particular branch was at the Travis State Jail, located at 8101 FM 969, which houses 1,100 inmates. The school is one of the 88 schools in the TDCJ.

Seated in folding chairs on one side of a large room were 36 men. Some wore blue gowns, others white prison uniforms. Most were between 18 and 35, though a couple of 43-year-old were mixed in.

Their faces were expressionless, eyes deflected in the protective human mask that is useful if you are a felon trying to survive behind bars.

On the other side of the room were 30 to 35 people -men, women and children. They were the fathers and mothers, wives and girlfriends, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.

When asked if they had anything to say to the prisoners, emotions welled up among these families.

"To my graduate, Julien, my husband, I love you."

"Rowdy, my son, I love you. You make me very proud."

"People make mistakes. Just don't make the same mistake twice, William. We'll set up the business when you complete... your dues."

"We love you. We miss you. Keep up the good work."

"Delton, I hope this is a right step in a positive direction."

"Donald, God has a plan for you. Everyone makes a mistake. Let God lead you."

Among the inmate across from them, eyes reddened, head swiveled, a nervous wave was proffered, sullen faces turned to smiles and finally, eyes met eyes.

There was good reason for pride. Thirteen of the prisoners had earned their General Educational Development (GED®) certificates.

Another 11 had completed courses in business computer information systems, and three had earned certificates in landscape design and construction maintenance.

I felt pain, too, in seeing what these young men had done to their families, and wondered why it was necessary, because you could see these guys working at the local hardware store, hotel, hospital or business office.

Perhaps that is where we will see them next, because their commintment to earning a certificate and learning work skills gives them a good chance of staying out of prison.

The average Windham student never attained a high school diploma, functions at a 6th grade level, has an IQ of 85, and is 34 years old.

Among the 1,100 here at the Travis State Jail, you sense that these 36 are made of the right stuff.

"Congratulations, for putting up with all of the negativity of the dorms," said Ashley Anderson, the building captain, noting that they had borne ridicule by other inmates to seek an education and have a vision for the future while others sat on the edge of their bunks.

As I've written before, I have a GED®, too. That's why I was here. I never served time, but I know that these guys aren't that much different than I was at age of 18. They may have pulled a stick-up or beat up somebody. They got what they deserved, though their families didn't deserve this.

But everybody needs a hand up, and now these guys in blue and white were getting that help.

Help from the warden, Corey Ginsel, and the school principal, Sandy Haak, and teachers like those who showed up for the graduation on their day off -Joe Castillo, Richard Coppedge, Suzanna Grant and Terrence Smith.

And most of all, they were getting help from the families on the other side of the room, the people who shared the pain and still love them.

 

Other articles that may interest you:

Salute to the School Board - School Board Recognition Month is highlighted in January, but Windham School District thanks the Texas Board of Criminal Justice for serving year round as its Board of Trustees.

WSD meets families in PACT Conference Oct. 3 - The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) will be hosting a free informational conference for offenders’ families and members of the general public on Oct. 3. The Public Awareness — Corrections Today (PACT) conference will be held at the Sam Houston State University Criminal Justice Center in Huntsville and will be coordinated by the TDCJ Ombudsman Program. Windham School District will be offer a presentation from 1-3 p.m. at the conference, as well as provide one-on-one information and resource materials to participants.

Teacher Recognition 2015 - WSD teachers are changing lives daily within the confines of Texas prisons, using education and job training to help transform offenders into productive members of society. The accomplishments of our teachers are life-altering and long-lasting. They make a difference.

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

 

Current APR 2015 - 2016: 

 

Archived Reports: 

 

 

Special strategic planning committee meets for life skills review - Updates and effective revisions to WSD life skills programs were the focus of a two-day strategic planning meeting held Jan. 21-22 in Huntsville. WSD teachers, academic specialists, regional administrators and principals; former Board of Trustee members, current TDCJ partners, university researchers, and community stakeholders came together as a special committee to offer input on WSD life skills curriculum revisions.

Success Stories

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 IconNEW - We can learn and be successful - "My life is proof that we can learn and be successful and stay out of trouble."

Success Story IconNEW - I had given up on myself - "I could barely read or write and didn’t even realize I had given up on myself… a great teacher from WSD taught me how to believe in myself..."

Success Story IconTo a WSD welding teacher from a former offender student -
"I got a job welding and I had to write and just thank you so much for putting me ahead of the game."

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WSD in Images

Auto specialization students in a West Texas prison learn auto maintenance skills, preparing themselves for future employment as professional mechanics.
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.
Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.
Each day WSD correctional educators pass through prison gates across Texas to work with men and women incarcerated within TDCJ.
Vocational and academic skills are integrated in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, such as this Small Engine Repair class in Huntsville, Texas.
Texas State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill congratulates GED recipients during Spring, 2014, ceremonies. “I am very impressed with the program and with the commitment of the staff and teachers,” she said.