During the fall of 2016, I had the opportunity to do my clinical experiences at the McLean County Juvenile Detention Center for TCH 212. While I certainly had the option to expand my horizons and do observations at other schools, I chose to focus my efforts on one location. As a non-traditional student, I commute to Illinois State University from Champaign Illinois, and wanted to be able to fit in time for observations on the days I was in Normal, IL. As someone who is currently licensed to substitute teach, I also have had the opportunity to work in different schools in the central Illinois area. These are experiences I can bring to my studies as I pursue a professional education license at Illinois State University.
My experience began on September 7th, 2016 during a training session at the McLean County Detention Center. While this does not count towards my clinical hours, it established some boundaries that volunteers are required to work within. Below is a link to the detention center website, which gives some information on the facility and volunteer opportunities for individuals.
The detention center was also featured in Bloomington-Normals newspaper The Pantagraph. The below article gives some background on how the center has evolved since it opened in 1994. One thing I found interesting was the decision to not incarcerate young people who had low level offenses such as truancy, due to the negative effects that came from exposure to juveniles that had more serious charges leveled against them.
Mandy Owens took us on a tour of the facility and explained some of the expectations which are expected from volunteers. While ISU requires students to wear their ID's around their neck, for security reasons all personal property has to be placed in a locker. This includes the Student ID's that are used in other clinical programs. For the safety of the volunteers, we are asked to not share any personal identifying information with residents beyond our first name. So, I can tell a resident to call me Martha, but I can't reveal my last name or location of my residence. By that same token, it's expected that I will protect the identity of the residents. For the purpose of this blog, Ms Owens has requested that we only use either "Male Resident" or "Female Resident" in our clinical field blogs.
Dress code also specifies that we need to wear sneakers and dresses and skirts are discouraged. So basic shirt/pants/jeans combinations will work. No political slogans, tattoos, and hoop earrings are allowed. Volunteers are also encouraged to come during different times of the day. That way we can observe residents in different situations.
When I did my field observations, I was not allowed to carry in paper or writing materials. I had to have everything locked in a visitors locker. Neither was I allowed to have a nametag on my person, due to the security issues surrounding the center. I recorded field notes in One Note to keep track of my volunteer time, and to use for my field experiences
Methodology and Technology
Prompts: My expectation of the methodology was to see a lecture style of teaching. In this respect the methods used did meet my expecation, and there was no variation used in the method. My own perceptions of lecture style is that it's a teaching method that can be utlized to impart information to a group of people. As such, the lecture approach did work. Plus, the nature of the detention center made allowances for residents to come and go from the center. In that environment, it would be challenging to engage in a pedagogical approach that incorporated other practices such as a discussion format, or having students work in small groups. There were no aspects of this component that really came to me as a surprise, and I could not compare this site to other places since I did all of my hours at the center.
The detention center has one classoom where all lessons took place. The teacher Ms. R. used a lecture style of teaching to the residents. The first class I observed was one where Ms. R played a DVD documentary on the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, The Pentagon, and the bravery exhibited by passengers on United Airlines Flight 93. After the documentary, Ms. R also asked for everyones thoughts on the documentary. From my field notes I had observed. a male resident talking about how would have jumped out of one of the planes and used his clothing to fashion a parachute. I must admit I found the comments to be both creative and amusing.
Ms. R. handed out worksheets for the residents to complete. Using a lecture style of teaching, Ms. R talked about some of the technology used in airports which developed after September 11th, and she went through the worksheet instructions with everyone in the class.. There were some work sheets handed out and discussion on some of the ways in which airports do screening of passengers. The science behind the use of high tech x-rays was discussed as well. Then the teacher read off statements and asked students to make the distinction between what is an opinion v. what is a fact. For instance, an opinion usually includes language such as 'I think' or 'I believe' while facts do not. During the limited time she had, Ms R. managed to bring in elements of science, technology, and research methods into the classroom.
Subsequent classes I observed took place in both the gymnasium and the classroom. From 10:00 to 10:30 residents would be playing basketball or engaging in exercise in the gym. Three correction officers would supervise the residents and sometimes play ball with them. During my observations, I also encountered nursing students from Illinois State who had the detention center included on their rotation. This was treated primarily like a recess at a school setting, only the residents did not go outside.
Class would then take place from 11:30 to around 12PM. Ms. R used primarily a lecture style in teaching material to her students.. On a white board she would have their schedule and assignments listed. During this everyone would follow the schedule she had posted. At one point, the students started to read The House on Mango Street written by Sandra Cisneros. Miss R talked about Cisneros, and her background as a Latina woman growing up in Chicago. She then had the students read a short article about Cisneros. In the article Cisneros recalls her father reading one of her short stories after it had been published in Spanish.
Sandra Cisneros - Website Photo
Ms. R had students read vignettes and write out a vocabulary word and look it up. She would then have them use the words in sentences. She combined this with math worksheets that were geared towards the levels of each student. In other observations, sometimes students would write about other things they were reading and studying.
Computers? Who needs them?
The classroom did not offer students direct access to technology. While there was a small computer type lab at one end of the room, I never saw the residents use the computers. The residents were allowed to have pencil and paper during class time and reading materials provided by the Normal Public Library. Residents could not take writing utensils into their cells due to concerns that they might be used as weapons.
Prompts: When I saw the grouping of computers at one end of the classroom, I did expect to see students being able to work in rotation. This was a preconceived notion I had based on similar set ups in other classrooms that I had worked in as a sub. In reflecting on this, I realize that I could have simply asked why students were not allowed on the computer. For all I know there may be a security reason involved in this, or perhaps the computers themselves were not up to speed. I expect that in my own future classrooms I will either be taking students to computer labs, or they will have access to either chromebooks or IPads in the classroom. That being said, technology is ever changing. Back in my own days in the public school system, an electric typewriter was considered to be high tech.
During my volunteer work at the center, I had the opportunity to tutor a male resident on a one on one basis. He was picking at his arm using a pencil, and I asked him what he was doing. He explained to me that he was giving himself a tattoo template. Using the lead of a pencil, he was incorporating a peace sign into his arm. One of the correction officers busted him over the intercom and told him to knock it off.
Ms. R did have access to a SmartBoard that she used to show the documentary on September 11th. At one point, I did a couple of volunteer hours in the evening, and the correction officers showed the film San Adreas on the SmartBoard as well. I was also able to go to the center on Columbus Day and the residents were watching a movie in the common room. I did observe Ms. R using a laptop, but I don't know what programs or software she used.
Ms. R. treated her students with kindness. She would go around with a bag of Jolly Ranchers candy and let students pick out a couple of pieces. She even shared candy with the volunteers. Considering that the residents never really had any special treats, I felt that this gesture on her part was thoughtful. Her mode of dress was what I would describe as office casual. This is consistent with the dress code that Ms. Owens outlined for the volunteers during our orientation. Ms. R. also referred to her students by first name and kept a schedule written on the whiteboard. If a student got off task she would simply redirect the students.
Additionally, Ms. R always had enough materials to hand out to the students. She covered the material in a clear and concise manner. When teaching The House on Mango Street she clearly described how the book was written in vignette style instead of chapters. She used language that was age appropriate and that her students could understand. When students asked for help, she was able to help them. She never did engage in any type of conversation that indicated any preferences for religion or political affiliations in the classes I observed her in. Her approach and demeaner was very calm and businesslike with the residents.
Prompts: I pretty much did expect to see the level of professionalism that Ms. R showed to the class. The one thing that did surprise me is she did not have to really manage any behavioral issues with the class. This may be due to the presence of correction officers in the room and it is a controlled environment that the students have to operate within. Since all of my clinical hours were done at the center, I really can't compare this to any other locations in the Normal area. I can see myself applying this type of professionalism in my classes, and I expect that I will probably know more background information about the students that will help me to be a more effective educator.
After finishing up the volunteer hours, I did stop by the center with some candy and popcorn for Ms. R. and the kids. She thanked me for the note and we talked about how the kids really don't get a lot f nice things while incarcerated. She told me that she had asked about bringing in homemade goods for them, and was told that she would have to prepare anything in the kitchen on site. So anything that is brought to the residents pretty much has to be purchased and packaged. Her sharing this with me displayed the manner in which she is very thoughtful towards her students.
After one of my observations, I asked Ms. R how she was able to identify what her students needed and how she approached them. At one point a resident had mentioned that he was having to get used to being in a classroom environment all over again. Ms. R. explained to me that the residents are given placement exams when they are brought into the facility, and she designs her approach based on where the students are at. While the residents she worked with during my observations were at a high school level, she has had students who functioned at a much lower level. In that situation, she would do more one on one tutoring and give the rest of the class work they could do independently.
Prompts: I expected that the students would display different levels of abilities in the class. The one thing that did surprise me was just how transient the students are in the class. There was a female resident present at one of my observations, yet she was not in the center at the next class I observed. This kind of fits in with what I was told about the center. It's not unusual for a resident to just be there for a day or two while waiting to be arraigned in court. Unless I find myself teaching in a similar facility, I expect that I will have more of an opportunity to get to know students and observe their abilities in the classroom. As a sub I do deal with things that can change in an instant, and I expect that it will help me to be a better educator by making it possible for me to adjust and adapt to the ever changing nature of education.
Management of Physical Environment
Unlike a regular school environment, this is a facility where residents are incarcerated due to breaking the law. In the gym and classroom there are correction officers present to manage any misbehavior that could occur. There was one time, when a resident was being isolated from the rest of the class due to behavior. He could be observed in another part of the building making faces and hand gestures. I chose to ignore him because that appeared to be the approach of the correction officers.
When residents went from the gym to the classroom, they would have to line up and the correction officer would unlock the door to let everyone out. The doors to the classrooms, the common areas, the residents cells, and the intake areas were all locked. When arriving to the facility, volunteers would be buzzed into the reception area. We would be required to place all personal items in the visitors locker. A correction officer would then escort us to whatever area the residents were in at the time. Usually, it was the gym, and the classroom. When I worked with a resident one on one we were in the cell block area, and we were under watch with cameras and other monitors. The environment is controlled at all times by professionally trained corrections officers.
Prompts; I expected to see more misbehavior from the residents, and was surprised that this did not happen. So my impression of the component was that the general good behavior I saw was as a result of the presence of correction officers, and the controlled nature of the environment. In terms of how this will influence me as an educator, I do expect that this will motivate me to try to have some type of structure available for my students, along with consistent expectations. In that respect, I hope to be a better educator in managing the environment.
Diversity and Demographics
The residents are juveniles from McLean and surrounding counties. When I first started volunteering I noted the demographics were part African Ameican and Caucasion. At the time there were two female residents and approximately 10-12 male residents. Over the course of 20 hours one of the females left the facilitiy, and there was another female there temporarily. Some of the residents only stayed for a couple of days, and other residents spent more time there. At one point there were a couple of male residents who appeared to be of hispanic descent.
In coversations with one of the corrections officers, I learned that often residents would come in because they were on probation and managed to 'catch' another charge. In other words, they committed a crime while on probation.. Sometimes residents would only be in the center long enough to be arraigned.
Prompts:I actually expected to see more girls there than I did. I'm not familiar with the statistics on juvenile offenses in terms of gender, so it may be that the population reflects the known data. I am aware that having an element of mulicultural literacy will help me to be a better teacher. However, I don't feel that I really learned anything 'new' in regards to this aspect of my clinical observations.
As an individual who likes to be 'hands on", I expected to be bored doing my observations. Instead, I was able to engage with some of the staff members and residents during my time. I learned about some of things that the residents liked to do outside of the center. One young man really impressed me in talking about how he loved to read science fiction and philosophy. He described how he would have stacks of books in his room and he converted space in his fathers basement into a library and music room. To listen to this resident, I can imagine him going to college and even graduate school. Yet, for reasons that I wasn't allowed to know, he was in a detention center.
Most of the residents pretty much kept to themselves and would be polite, but not really interested in interacting with volunteers. One of the female residents was able to avail herself to free dental work while she was in the facility, and she talked about getting her hair done after she was done with her time. She and one of the correction officers talked about hair braiding and weaves. The officers would sometimes bring in meals for the residents and they seemed to take an interest in the wellbeing of the residents.
As I mentioned in my video, I really found myself thinking about some issues in regards to the school to prison pipeline. There is an increasing amount of reliance on using trained police officers instead of educators to enforce discipline in the schools. As a result, behaviors that used to be considered typical of a particular age group is now being criminalized. I remember subbing at a grade school some years ago. I saw a little kid pull at some grass during the recess, and one of the recess supervisors was screaming that this child was destroying govermentment property. Even now I kind of shake my head at a response that was way over the top.
In the last year South Carolina has been in the news over this particular issue. A school resource officer was taped dragging a teenage girl across the floor in her classroom. This went viral and the officer eventually lost his job over it.
The young student seen being dragged in this video was charged with "Disturbing Schools", and it ended up being brought to the attention of the federal government. It was pointed out that the law was way too broad and targeted minority students and individuals with disabilities. As such, these demographics often ended up in the juvenile justice system.
In Pennsylvania, a former judge ended up being sentenced to prison for sending juveniles to jail in a "kids for cash" scandal that ruined many lives. In this system a private for profit juvenile jail was set up, and the judge was paid money to keep the centers full of kids. As a result, there were kids who ended up in court over minor charges, but who ended up serving time. It is alleged that many lives were ruined as a result of this sceme.
These additional thoughts do correspond with the fact that I did my clinical experience at the McLean County Juvenile Detention Center. I also believe that current and future educators need to be aware of these issue that have an impact on young people. This can be correlated with the component of understanding learners. Part of being an effective teacher involves being aware of the issues that students deal with. This knowledge can be useful for pre-service teachers who are looking at teaching careers in high schools.
My experiences at the detention center were pretty positive. I enjoyed the opportunity to tutor one of the residents, and it got me thinking about some of the issues these students face. There is a lot that I still have to learn about teaching as a profession, and it's my hope that my time at the center has been beneficial in that respect.