Rural Reader Writes: The best students ever

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I love education. I was home-schooled for several years and it was a very positive experience. I could tell some very cool stories that culminated in the court case “Shinn vs. the Board of Education” where my father went to jail because of his desire to continue homeschooling his children. This was in the late ‘50s-early ‘60s, and today many parents are teaching the children without any drama or fanfare. Things change.

I chose a career in education accidentally. I was a health educator before I became a school counselor where I worked for a quarter of a century. Working in a family planning/prenatal clinic, I went to all the continuation/community schools in the Valley and California Youth Authority to teach about safer sex and other stuff. There was often chaos in those classrooms. Later, I taught a few classes in a junior high, at a junior college, at an SDSU upper division, and also graduate level for two universities. But my best students so far are the Centinella and Calipatria State prisons’ inmates.

Do they bring me an apple a day? No, and if they did, I would have to report it! What they bring is some serious motivation, not only in the curriculum, but what it could do for them in their lives. I teach an introduction to Sociology, and they are living the dream (or nightmare). The content is about how we become people as a result of the interactions of the self with family, culture and the major institutions in which we come in contact. Many of my students have been in prison for decades, but other than the tattoos and CDCR uniforms, they seem very much like other good students

I have no behavior problems, and there is not a correctional officer in the class, or one looking in for that matter. The students are genuinely interested in what I have to bring to the daily lessons, but also what they can get from questions, activities and dialogue. They are sponges wanting to absorb information, willing workers, and it is reflected in their test scores. They are all IVC students in my classes, but their work and test scores exceed those of their younger, more liberated learners at the main campus in Imperial. Unfortunately, these imprisoned students lack laptops, the internet and library resources, but in my experience, the best food is in the class lessons and the text.

I know that many of them want to get a reduced sentence, and they well should. The recidivism rates for our criminal justice systems are not good. What they have found though, is if an inmate works, and completes a two year degree inside, the risk of them coming back to the joint drops radically, to less than 10%.

It is nice to work in a program, which has good outcomes, and can save the taxpayer big bucks. I have over 80 students in three different classes, and if 70 get out, and don’t come back, well that saves about 70 X $30,000 (or more) per year. Teacher Jim could be helping save the taxpayers more than two million a year for as long as these characters stay alive.

So they are good students because they take this second chance at education very seriously. They are the best because they are enthused “educatees”, and they are not taking this opportunity for granted. It has been sad, where at every level, so many students, flunk, don’t show up, or don’t give me their all. I have heard awful stories of other registered IVC students, who only attend class until the financial aid check arrives. They become MIAs because of the MIP (money in their pocket). The good news is that America has one of the greatest education systems on the planet. The bad news is that too many students, at all levels, don’t care about the opportunity they hold in their hands.

Finally, I like my students because they are nice people. They are happy, grateful, interesting, and pleasant to be around. Now I realize some correctional officers probably get a different personality during the day, but I would like to believe they are just the best students, becoming better people.