San Antonio Food Bank fights hunger... feeds hope
San Antonio Food Bank fights hunger... feeds hope
Dominguez State Jail offenders giving back...getting hope
Every morning a select group of Dominguez State Jail offenders climbs into a Texas Department of Criminal Justice van and embarks on an incredible journey. These Windham School District (WSD) students leave behind the barbed wire confines of incarceration and travel to the San Antonio Food Bank (SAFB) where they find hope, feed hunger and give back to society.
Housed in an immense warehouse and office complex, the food bank is stocked with cliff-high shelves of food and continuous fork lift action. A steady stream of volunteers, workers, families, and other visitors bustle about the site, participating in a long list of programs to fight hunger.
One of these programs is the Windham Plant Processing/Warehouse Equipment Operation class, a solid partnership between the WSD, TDCJ, and the SAFB. Convicted felons enter this program to serve others, but they may also change their own lives. They are a part of the unique class which began approximately 12 years ago in partnership with SAFB. It’s an opportunity to teach WSD students knowledge and skills needed to succeed upon release. The program instills confidence, pride and hope in participants who are giving back to the community.
E. Cooper, SAFB director, explains the origins of the program: "We were trying to take our community service to the next level, we wanted to create a win-win." As a result, Cooper and Dominguez State Jail Windham Principal O. Kelly created the WSD class.
"Not only is it a journey for the WSD students, it’s one for us as well," Cooper says. "Windham students travel to our food bank five days a week for class and the opportunity to learn valuable skills. This class gives us (SAFB) the opportunity to see offenders as people, not as felons. We realize they have discovered through their participation that there are consequences to their choices. This class gives them the opportunity to make up for their ‘bad’ choices by allowing them to give back to several communities with their participation and work at the food bank."
SAFB is one of 202 food banks in the United States. They are an independent non-profit organization associated with Feeding America. There are only 20 Feeding America food banks in Texas.
"Our food bank services 16 counties in the San Antonio area by stocking food at approximately 535 non-profit organizations within the 16 counties," Cooper says. Our food banks feed 58,000 people each week."
Hard work fuels the program’s success, according to Windham Principal Kelly.
"Program success is about exerting effort and hard work," he says. Not only is our participation an opportunity for WSD students to give their time, it’s an opportunity for the food bank to help save money that can be used elsewhere. With our SAFB partnership, the amount of money saved is huge. The students work a four hour day, which saves the food bank $52 per day, per student, with the potential of saving the food bank $65,500 annually."
"The class gives students an opportunity to connect effort with success, and being affiliated with this program allows them to be immersed in that experience - there’s no shortcut to success," Kelly says.
Along with saving food bank costs, Cooper says this program has long-lasting benefits.
"The food bank focuses on three areas: food for today, food for tomorrow and food for a lifetime," according to Cooper.
"Food for today focuses on getting food out to our communities so no one goes hungry. Food for tomorrow is where we help educate our recipients of the assistance programs available for them like Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Food for a lifetime is where we help our community participants and our WSD students move from dependence to independence.
"We have partnered with WSD and TDCJ to help instill hope in their students! Our goal is to also educate the community about the opportunity to employ a felon. Our hope is that these students are recognized as someone’s son, brother, or dad -- and not just a felon," Cooper says.
"Statistics have shown that 80-90 percent of WSD students flourish when given the opportunity. We set the example here at the SAFB by hiring felons and giving the hope and opportunity of growth and advancement. Our own director of operations is a former member of the class and a former offender. He started as a warehouse worker and worked his way up to director, which proves there is hope!"
WSD students at the food bank are led through a variety of training exercises each day by J. Tesch, instructor for the past year and a half. She says she strives to make the class an environment where students want to learn, with the curriculum focusing on six areas: safety, forklift operation, material handling, inspection/philosophy, storage and staging and vocational/job opportunities. Classroom instruction goes hand-in-hand with warehouse on-the-job work experience. Upon completion of this class, students leave with a forklift license and a Windham certificate, along with actual warehouse training that will benefit them upon release. Students take away a feeling of "doing something greater," Tesch says.
"I have also learned that if you expect the best of these students, you will get it," she says.
The class is three to four months in length and can accommodate up to 20 students and two student mentors. The mentors are two offenders chosen from the previous class. For an offender to participate, he must be a WSD student at Dominquez State Jail. Teachers nominate students, who go through a screening process: they must be a J1 (State Jail code for trusty) status with a good disciplinary record. Once approved, the offender is transported to SAFB five days per week with the rest of his class to receive classroom instruction for one hour.
The class is also considered the offender’s job, and after instruction, the men go to work. The class is broken into two groups, with one group working in the receiving area, unloading and tending trucks. The other group pulls orders for shipping. The men are trained to use three different types of forklifts, including the sky jack forklift, the sit down forklift and the stand up fork lift.
By the end of the course, the offenders have learned a variety of job skills, including stocking inventory, taking inventory and the "racking" system of pallets. Also, from guest speakers, they learn important facts about interviewing for jobs, resume writing, personal finances and how to start a business. Offenders are also taught how to access community resources related to employment, housing, food and other necessities of life. Overall, participants are learning real-life work skills while discovering what they can personally accomplish.
"The most rewarding thing is when they pass their first test, when they didn’t think they could - or when they have never said a word in class, and at the end, they say, ‘Thank you!’" Tesch says.
This personal transformation is not lost on the offenders.
"We help feed 58,000 people a week," says K. Pool, an offender mentor for the current Power Management class. "That’s the important thing. It’s good to give something back. We’re giving something back to society."
At the end of the day, TDCJ’s offender-workers return to the confines of the Dominguez State Jail with a sense of accomplishment. They just helped better the lives of thousands of needy people - and they were able to interact with the free world once again. There is hope for their future after incarceration.
Other articles that may interest you:
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.
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WSD WANTS YOU To help recruit great teachers & earn extra time for yourself! - Correctional educators with Windham School District have some of the best teaching jobs in the state, and your help is needed to get this word out! WSD is currently recruiting academic and vocational teachers for its schools statewide, and employees are encouraged to help bring in the best referrals and candidates for Windham teaching jobs.
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.
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:
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2014 - 2015:
- 2013 - 2014
Industry employers partner with WSD to provide increased job opportunities - Windham School District continues to build valuable partnerships with industry employers, according to a recent report by WSD Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter to the WSD Board of Trustees.