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.

Perry praises WSD graduates for educational accomplishments : ‘You’ve done something you didn’t have to do’ - Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) recently recognized hard work and educational accomplishment in a West Texas prison.

Employment Opportunities and Free Bonding Services

The TWC Fidelity Bonding service helps at-risk job applicants including ex-offenders get and keep a job. TWC and the Workforce Development Boards offer free fidelity bonding services to reduce employers' concerns about hiring at-risk job applicants who cannot be bonded through other sources. Please click here for more information.

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Additional Information:

Course Titles and Skills Information 
Certifications 
Bonding Services
Submit Job Opportunities
Employer Surveys

 

Governor Greg Abbott meets Windham School District Principal Teresa Craiker while both visit with veterans about job opportunities during the recent Red, White and You job fair in San Antonio.  WSD was appreciative of the opportunity to talk to veterans about job openings in the school district. Craiker, who is principal at Dominguez State Jail, joins Windham principals statewide who serve as recruiters at events throughout the state.

For WSD Employees only:


WSD employees have from July 3, 2015 to July 17, 2015 to make changes to their insurance benefits for Plan year 2016 (which runs from Sept. 1, 2015 to Aug. 31, 2016). Go to www.ers.state.tx.us to create your login and password. You may need to establish an online account.

When you access ERS Online, you will see your insurance enrollment and personal contact information. During Annual Enrollment time, click on "Benefits Enrollment" to make changes to your benefits for Plan Year 2016. A video member tutorial showing employees how to make annual Enrollment changes is available on the ERS website.

If you will be making changes that require Evidence of Insurability (EOI) approval, such as enrolling in or increasing the amount of optional term life, adding dependent life, short/long term disability you will need to submit an EOI online.

If you don’t want to change your benefits, you do not need to do anything. Your current benefits will continue in plan Year 2016.

Go to the ERS website to find out more information about Annual Enrollment.

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 IconNEW - I’m so grateful I took welding -
"I’m so grateful I took welding; I’ve come so far in my career because the things I was taught in that program".

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

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WSD in Images

Students at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit strengthen writing skills during a literacy class.
Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.
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.
Each day WSD correctional educators pass through prison gates across Texas to work with men and women incarcerated within TDCJ.
Offenders often experience academic success for the first time in a Windham classroom.