Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/wed/31217JAILKIDS.html

Jail school has high AIMS scores
December 17, 2003
By Inger Sandal

Edward Wayman's students earn some of the highest AIMS test scores in Tucson, but they aren't filling out university applications.

Instead, more than half go directly to prison.

The teens in Wayman's high school classes spend months, sometimes a year or more, in the Pima County jail awaiting prosecution as adults because of the severity of the crimes they're accused of committing.

Few, if any, are honor students before they surrender their street clothes for the light green smocks teens wear behind bars. Their average age is 15, but most read and write at a third- or fourth-grade level when they first enter the jail's Pima Accommodation District school. Some don't speak English. Some haven't seen the inside of a classroom for a couple of years.

But after six months, most rise at least two grade levels.

The students scored in the top half of Tucson-area school students on the AIMS writing test last spring, with 68 percent of the 14 students in the 10th grade or above who took it meeting or exceeding state standards. The school scored better than two-thirds of area high schools on the AIMS reading test in spring 2002, and was 23rd among 39 area high schools last spring with 42 percent passing. The school was fourth among 28 charter schools in AIMS math scores with 15 percent passing.

Part of the success is 24-hour supervision. "You can create the ideal school," district Director Mark Jones said. "The kids have consistency and high expectations on a daily basis they must meet."

Every jail inmate under age 18 attends the school, which averages about 25 students. Pima College Adult Education teaches English, and provides GED preparation and testing to adult inmates.

Every day each teen receives 300 minutes of instruction, attends study hall and always has homework in math, English and science. The classes are small. The standards are high. And the teachers, Jones said, "don't leave any one of them behind."

Wayman, 66, started teaching high school courses in the jail more than seven years ago and never looks at a student's rap sheet. He draws from his own experiences as an accountant who taught at college more than a decade after he retired from the Air Force as a master sergeant.

He wears ties, runs a strict classroom and teaches respect by showing respect. "They address me as Mr. Wayman. Every morning I greet them one by one by one," he said. And he never accepts 'I don't know' as an answer.

"I can't do anything about them going to prison. What I can do is give them hope for the future, teach them how to do the time and not let the time do them. That makes a big difference. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Wayman said.

"Honestly, I'd say he's the best teacher I ever had," one student said last week before algebra class. "He finds time to work with all of us," a classmate said. The program requires student confidentiality.

More than half of the teens have learning disabilities. Special education instructor Stacy Bansback has spent the first five years of her teaching career with this district and works with the teens' parents to develop individual education plans.

The teachers work as a team with Lisa Klukosky, the district's special education and transition coordinator. Instructional assistant Manuel San-chez tests the students when they arrive and as they prepare to leave, and works with them individually.

There are also a variety of support services in the jail. Corrections specialist Daniel Chavez, the jail's liaison to the school, for example, ensures the teens get glasses if needed and determines how many privileges a student gets based on his behavior.

The school uses a curriculum developed by the Arizona Department of Education's secure care division that stresses life skills, practical math and reading that students can use in the real world. Students learn about different careers and how to fill out job applications, and they can also advance to such subjects as trigonometry, world history and chemistry.

Honor roll requires A's and B's, Wayman said, "and I'm not very generous with my grades; so if you get an A in my class, you've earned that sucker."

Last month, the Pima County Sheriff's Department gave Wayman a public service achievement medal, citing his high expectations, enthusiasm and dedication to teaching.

The accommodation district, overseen by Pima County schools Superintendent Linda Arzoumanian, includes the CAPE program at the Pima County Juvenile Court Center as well as the Zimmerman Elementary School on Mount Lemmon, which is down to one student because of the Aspen Fire. The district is responsible for more than 1,600 students every year.

District leaders helped persuade lawmakers in 1995 to pass a law requiring that all adult county jails provide educational services to juveniles in their custody. By law, the jail school gets only 72 percent of the state dollars per student that other public schools receive, Jones said.

The district is accredited so its courses are accepted by other high schools and colleges. Two students, for example, have graduated with their former high schools because they completed needed credits in jail, he said.

This year, district officials obtained a three-year grant that let them hire a transition specialist to help students adjust to life out of the structured program, and track their progress.

Some students who are convicted get released with conditions that can include paying restitution to victims, community service and continuing their education.

"Any one of the judges traditionally have given my kids two mandates: Get your GED when you leave Mr. Wayman's program, and enroll in Pima college," Wayman said. More than 90 percent who leave pass the GED on their first try.

Wayman said he often runs into former students. Some are attending Pima college. At least one recent student is in the military. Many tell him they have gotten their GEDs and are working. Wayman usually follows up by asking what they plan to do next.

"I picked up a good habit with reading," one teen said. "I finish books I never thought I'd read in my life." The teen said he was also looking forward to taking the AIMS tests next spring. "It gives us a chance to show off more of the skills we have learned," he said.

Tom Horne, Arizona's schools superintendent, said that kind of talk shows the teachers "have been giving them a very good attitude toward academic achievement." This year's sophomore class must pass the state AIMS test to graduate from high school, but will have four additional chances to pass.

David Alan Darby, a longtime defense attorney who has represented juveniles in criminal cases, wasn't surprised to hear teens are excelling academically in the jail.

"It's structured. What most of these kids need is structure," he said. On the outside, an unstable home life and absentee parents often contribute to their problems.

"These young teen-agers are out running around, left to their own devices on the streets, and they get into terrible trouble," Darby said.

For some kids, he said, the most positive experience of their lives "is being locked up in jail and forced to go to school, getting some insight into life, and getting a little bit of education."

He said that increases self-esteem and "makes some of these kids aware that they can think and figure things out and make something of themselves."

* Contact Inger Sandal at 573-4115 or at isandal@azstarnet.com.