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.
Armed with GEDs®, inmates can triumph over their pasts
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:
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.
Windham Career Expo inside TDCJ's Terrell Unit brings employers, hiring support directly to offenders - Offenders gathered to hear from a variety of employees and professionals speaking about industry jobs and work opportunities for post- release offenders. With more than 160 students in attendance at five one-hour long sessions, there were many men eager to hear what visitors had to say. Ten volunteers and community leaders from five different companies came into this Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility in Rosharon, Texas, to talk directly to students about employment opportunities.
Message from Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter:
Career and Technical Education teachers help build future
Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers in the Windham School District (WSD) align job opportunities and learning with innovative instruction. The end result is a productive, positive journey for offenders seeking workforce reentry. Windham CTE teachers across Texas bring their own professional experiences to work to elevate their students’ skill levels.
More than 42 trades are offered by WSD throughout TDCJ, and these offerings have been recently expanded to include skills needed in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) middle-level jobs. WSDS vocational training programs include computer numeric control machining, fiber and copper cabling, computer controls programming and telecommunications.
Windham also partners with TDCJ to provide training and U. S. Dept. of Labor-approved apprenticeship programs for workers in various jobs within TDCJ facilities. Other CTE partnerships with industry and workforce development boards are also helping improve WSD vocational training while creating additional hiring opportunities for trained offenders after release.
At the foundation of these changes and improvements are Windham’s vocational instructors. They work each day in challenging environments to bring authentic, real-world training experiences to incarcerated men and women. They teach their students the technical and soft skills needed to rejoin the workforce, and they mentor their students to become the trained workers sought by employers. Last school year WSD’s CTE instructors provided opportunities for more than 19,000 students to earn valuable industry-recognized certifications, increasing their chances for viable careers after release.
During February, we proudly salute our CTE instructors during National Vocational Educator’s Week, and we thank them for their dedicated service as correctional educators.
For a look at a WSD Career and Technical Education WORKDAY, see our CTE Youtube video: https://youtu.be/Tq3HHTFKjcA
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.
Workforce Solutions Partners with Windham School District - McAllen, TX – Representatives from the Lower Rio Grande Valley Workforce Solutions Board (WFS) and the Windham School District (WSD) met on April 24, 2018 at the WFS Corporate Office to sign a partnership agreement that will lead to the development of a program meant to help offenders rejoin the workforce.