Wow…talk about writer’s block. Although my “Principal for the Day” is all I have thought about since I left the lunch event at Anthis, I am having trouble putting my day into words. It’s so easy to write about my school visits because generally I see teachers doing what they love to do and children engaged in learning. I get excited watching the education process and love to see both the teachers and students motivated about what they are doing. Yesterday was different. I would agree that I saw the commitment I always see while I visited Ward Education Center. Grady Pruitt, Ward’s principal, runs a great program that is structured and purposeful. Passionate teachers were using innovative ways of teaching to get students engaged. The students were dressed appropriately in school uniforms while some were decked out in their best attire ready for their exit interviews with their home school principals. All were focused on what they were doing, with many using iPads or computers. The low teacher-to- student ratio at Ward, combined with the mandatory social skills class, is ideal to get students focused, engaged, and back on track so that they can be successful when they return to their home school.
My next visit is where I’m having trouble coming up with something to write. I went to Allen County Juvenile Center or “ACJC.” At the end of the day, Mr. Pruitt sent me an email and wrote, “I hope the tour of ACJC was what you were expecting.” Well, I guess it wasn’t. I wasn’t expecting to see young people wearing orange prison uniforms in classrooms. I wasn’t expecting to see a 9 year old who was waiting for a decision to be made about his placement or release after entering ACJC earlier that day. I was not expecting to see the garage door where the police cars enter with the arrested young person. I did not expect this to be the last place these children will see “the light of day” once they are booked until and the time they are released. I did not expect to see a 6’x8’ jail cell made for two inmates, bunk beds attached to the wall with a pillow/mattress foam combo.
So, what was I expecting? I don’t know. I guess I was expecting it to be less harsh. I guess I wanted to believe we don’t need a “real” prison for our young people. I wasn’t expecting a “scared straight” experience. But there are positives from my visit. The teachers said they loved their jobs. ACJC is a state of the art facility. In addition to continuing one’s education, the young people are given other opportunities after “school” - chess club, Youth for Christ, addictions counseling, plus other wrap around services to make this program something that will give our young adults the skills to be better citizens once they are back home. These children are fortunate to be surrounded by caring adults. Hopefully they will be touched by one of them who will make a difference in their lives. That is what I expect.