26 inmates at Polunsky Unit in Livingston earn GEDS®

(Part 2 of a two-part series)

By GARY STALLARD, Contributing Writer, LUFKIN DAILY NEWS

26 inmates 

 These 26 inmates at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston received their GED® certificates during a ceremony held in the prison chapel.
State Rep. James White was a guest speaker.

  

LIVINGSTON-“Does the tassel go in the front or the back?”

The inmate at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston had already donned his purple graduation gown, but he wasn’t quite sure how to work the mortar board or the attached tassel.  

His teacher, Betty Lewing, showed him how to arrange the headgear while explaining he’d be having his graduation photo taken as well.

“Do I smile, or give a prison mean-mug?” he joked.   

“Smile,” Lewing ordered, and the man smiled.

A total of 26 inmates from the unit received their GED® (General Education Development) certificates in a ceremony held in the prison chapel this past Saturday. There were family members present, and the guest speakers included State Representative James White.

With a total of 58 inmates working toward passing the most recent test, the graduating members meant that Lewing’s class had managed a 44 percent passing rate – remarkable considering the environment in which these men had to learn, and the environments from which they came.

Some of those graduating came to the unit completely illiterate; one man said before his classes with Lewing, he couldn’t read or write his name.

“I’m very excited,” the man said. “I can already see doors opening for me that have always been closed. I had a decent job before, but I couldn’t go anywhere in it because of my lack of education, and I got frustrated. I can’t wait to use this.”

Another man said the doors opening for him weren’t just those of the educational variety.

“This is bringing me closer to my family,” he said. “I really messed up with all of them, and they haven’t had much to do with me since I got locked up. I don’t blame them. But since I started working on my GED®, I’ve been getting letters from them telling me how proud they are.”

Still another said age and his life experiences have caused him to value his newly earned education more than he ever has.

“When I was in school, I wasn’t a good student at all,” he said. “I made teachers throw erasers at me. I was frustrated with my own lack of ability, so I acted out to draw attention away from not being able to read. I ended up working bad jobs; I even used to shine shoes.

“Being able to read now lets me see a whole lot more of the world. I never want to stop learning now.”

The Windham School District is responsible for the Correctional Education in Texas, and Lewing has been an employee there since retiring from Lufkin ISD. Since she’s begun teaching at Polunsky, the graduating classes have grown from single digits to nearly 30 each time.

As she always does, on Saturday Lewing organized a full commencement ceremony, complete with Valedictorian and Salutatorian sashes, caps and gowns, and a program. Lewing and Ronnie Rawls sang a pair of gospel duets, and White commended the students for their perseverance.

“Every graduation ceremony is special, but considering what you men have gone through to get here makes your accomplishment even more so,” White said. “We live in a society that can be too quick to throw away people without offering second chances. You’re not disposable; you’re men who have made mistakes, and you’re proving you’re ready to overcome those mistakes.

“We want to help. We want to lift up, not lock up.”

 

Published December 22, 2013, in Lufkin Daily News. Reprinted with Permission.

To read Part 1 of this two-part serie please click here

 

Other articles that may interest you:

Windham School District (WSD) se complace en anunciar nuestra próxima asociación con Workforce Solutions South Plains (WSSP). - En Windham School District (WSD) nos complace anunciar nuestra próxima asociación con Workforce Solutions South Plains (WSSP). Estamos encantados de trabajar con el Director Ejecutivo Martin Aguirre y su equipo para crear una asociación sólida que beneficie a los ex delincuentes que buscan carreras en Lubbock y sus alrededores. La misión de WSD de brindar educación de calidad y capacitación profesional a las poblaciones de delincuentes coincide con la misión de WSSP de satisfacer las necesidades de los empleadores que buscan trabajadores altamente calificados.

Mensaje del Superintendente Dr. Clint Carpenter:

Profesores de educación vocacional y técnica ayudan a construir futuro

Educación profesional y técnica

Los maestros de Educación Profesional y Técnica (CTE) en el Distrito Escolar de Windham (WSD) alinean las oportunidades de trabajo y el aprendizaje con instrucción innovadora. El resultado final es un viaje productivo y positivo para los delincuentes que buscan la reinserción laboral. Los maestros de Windham CTE en todo Texas traen sus propias experiencias profesionales al trabajo para elevar los niveles de habilidad de sus estudiantes.

Más de 42 intercambios son ofrecidos por WSD en todo TDCJ, y estas ofertas se han ampliado recientemente para incluir las habilidades necesarias en puestos de nivel medio en ciencias, tecnología, ingeniería y matemáticas (STEM). Los programas de capacitación vocacional WSDS incluyen el mecanizado de control numérico por computadora, cableado de fibra y cobre, programación de controles de computadora y telecomunicaciones.

Educación profesional y técnica

Windham también se asocia con TDCJ para proporcionar capacitación y programas de aprendizaje aprobados por el Departamento de Trabajo de los EE. UU. Para los trabajadores en diversos trabajos dentro de las instalaciones de TDCJ. Otras asociaciones de CTE con las juntas de desarrollo de la industria y la fuerza de trabajo también están ayudando a mejorar la capacitación vocacional de WSD mientras se crean oportunidades de contratación adicionales para los delincuentes entrenados después del lanzamiento.

En la base de estos cambios y mejoras están los instructores vocacionales de Windham. Trabajan todos los días en entornos desafiantes para llevar experiencias auténticas de capacitación en el mundo real a hombres y mujeres encarcelados. Les enseñan a sus estudiantes las habilidades técnicas y sociales necesarias para reincorporarse a la fuerza de trabajo, y ellos asesoran a sus estudiantes para que se conviertan en los trabajadores capacitados que buscan los empleadores. Último año escolar Los instructores de CTE de WSD brindaron oportunidades para que más de 19,000 estudiantes obtuvieran valiosas certificaciones reconocidas por la industria, lo que aumenta sus posibilidades de tener carreras viables luego del lanzamiento.

Educación profesional y técnica

Durante febrero, saludamos con orgullo a nuestros instructores CTE durante la Semana Nacional de Educadores Vocacionales, y les agradecemos por su dedicado servicio como educadores correccionales.

Para mas información acerca de "WSD Career and Technical Education WORKDAY", visita el video en Youtube: https://youtu.be/Tq3HHTFKjcA

BY NICOLE WILCOX  
Staff writer
Published September 2, 2015
Reprinted courtesy of The Navasota Examiner
Navasota, Texas

 

Reporter Nicole Wilcox of the Navasota Examiner recently visited the Luther Unit for a first-hand look at Windham School District and how correctional education is helping offenders prepare for a successful life after release.  Her positive report is shared below, courtesy of The Navasota Examiner.

 

Welding instructor Van Campbell tells reporter Nicole Wilcox why he became a WSD teacher.

Most residents can recall four school districts within the county - Navasota, Anderson-Shiro, Iola and Richards – but there are actually five fully operational districts in our community.


Often forgotten about, the teachers of the Windham School District don’t have bus duty, lunch duty or parent conferences. What they do have is a school surrounded by security fencing and guard towers.

The Windham School District operates within 89 different Texas Department of Criminal Justice units, including both the Luther and Pack units in Navasota. The school district’s goals, as stated by Texas Education Code 19.003, are to reduce the odds of relapse and the cost of confinement or imprisonment, increase the success of former inmates in obtaining and maintaining employment, and provide an incentive for inmates to behave in positive ways during confinement or imprisonment. Students in the CNC Machining program at the Luther Unit learn valuable employment skills.

An individualized treatment plan is created for each offender, taking into account age, program availability, projected release date and varying needs of the offender. To accommodate those needs, the school district has different sections, including literacy and GED programs, career and technical education programs, and life skills programs.

“We are trying to put you in contact with jobs that will change your life,” Windham School District Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter said last week to a group of offenders in the vocational program of the Luther Unit.

The latest reports from the 2013-14 school year show 59,678 offenders statewide received WSD educational services. Of these offenders, 66 percent were able to attain a GED or high school diploma or showed significant gains in educational achievements. In addition to normal education classes, Windham offers offenders cognitive intervention and CHANGES programs designed to change the way they handle situations to prevent criminal behavior. CHANGES  is an acronym for changing habits and achieving new goals to empower success.

“I really believe in this program,” said CHANGES teacher Victoria Koehn. “Most of them really want to change but don’t know how. When the environment is right, they really open up.”

Those entered into CHANGES are within two years of getting out of the system. It is a 14-week program that includes role- playing scenarios and a seven-step system of behavior awareness that includes saying no to drugs, civic responsibility, healthy relationship development, apologies and amends, job interview skills and being open to change.

“The healthy relationship development is a big deal,” said Koehn. “Research shows that one good relationship is enough of a motivator to stay free.”WSD integrates vocational and literacy skills to help prepare offenders for successful lives after release.

If an offender has obtained a GED or high school diploma, they are eligible for vocational or college courses. Within the Luther Unit, a few of these courses include electrical, welding and computerized numerical computation. The computerized numerical control course deals with machining fabrication. The majority of fabrication and machining shops in the industry are moving to computerization because the machines are capable of being accurate to within 1/10000 of an inch.

“The majority of these guys are at 250 hours right now and can do the majority of the machine’s programming,” said instructor Mike Klodginksi.

The participating offenders in the computerized numerical computation course will be eligible for entry- level industry certification when they complete the minimum 600 hours of coursework and can opt for an additional 300 hours of advancement.

Electrical instructor Frank Goodman has simulated a work environment within his classroom with each student having an independent stall and project board. He is a firm believer in peer tutoring and teaches students that intrinsic motivation is self-motivation.

“I see my son in each of my students,” said Goodman. “I just want you to get paid for your knowledge.”

Like the majority of the WSD vocational classes, Goodman’s electrical course is six to nine months long, and the students are eligible for first or second year apprenticeship depending on the time put into the training.

“This was a blessing for me. I had an apprentice license before I was incarcerated.  I had the opportunity to go to school, but I wouldn’t do it. This made me come to school and work on becoming a journeyman. I have an opportunity to go back to work with LECS and work for them. I am retaining the info I knew when I was working,” said offender Antonio Rivera Camacho.CHANGES teacher Victoria Koehn (center) describes WSD’s pre-release life skills program to Navasota Examiner reporter Nicole Wilcox (left) and WSD Principal LeeEtta Clabron.

Everyone within WSD has a story. An overwhelming majority of the inmates talk about their families as motivation for participating. For the instructors and administrators, it is often a calling that differs from the course of their previous life.

Welding instructor Van Campbell was a 20-year member of the ironworkers union in Cincinnati before the birth of his first grandchild made him and his wife move to Texas. When asked if he would encourage anyone else to follow in his footsteps, Campbell replied, “As a teacher, yes! It is very gratifying. I’d hire any one of these guys when they leave my class.”

Media Honor Roll: WSD joins TASB to recognize outstanding journalists - Outstanding media representatives are honored annually by The Windham School District through participation in the Texas Association of School Board (TASB)’s Media Honor Roll initiative.

Livingston graduation ceremony: Rep. James White joins WSD in marking success - Two special guests celebrated academic achievement during a recent WSD graduation ceremony at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. Representative James White was in attendance to offer personal congratulations and present each graduate with a certificate of achievement.

Success Stories

Success Story IconNEW - Better future after prison - "It's mind-blowing and inspirational to know that you can have a better future after prison"

Success Story IconInspiration Success Story -
"You are inspiring people you haven’t even met!"

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 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."

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Teach for WSD

WSD in Images

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.
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.
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.

Former Student Survey