SAFETY-NET: A 24-Hour Educational Network for Correctional Facilities

By Arnall, Gail C. | Corrections Today, July 2002 | Go to article overview

SAFETY-NET: A 24-Hour Educational Network for Correctional Facilities


Arnall, Gail C., Corrections Today


In 1997, Florida, New York and Texas formed the Justice Distance Learning Consortium (JDLC) to develop a network to bring high-quality video, computer and Internet educational resources to correctional facilities. With funding from the Department of Education's Star Schools Program, JDLC launched SAFETY-NET (Systems Applications for Educating Troubled Youths) in 63 facilities. During the past four years, correctional staff and teachers have been trained on how best to use these resources in their classrooms.

JDLC is governed by a board of directors comprising two representatives each from the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC), New York State Office of Children and Family Services, and the Texas Youth Commission (TYC). A curriculum team, including representatives from each state, oversees curriculum selection and provides training for teachers and administrators in their respective states.

Because correctional educators designed SAFETY-NET, this unique educational service meets the special needs of classrooms located behind the fence. So, for example, special attention has been paid to selecting resources that provide a broad view of occupational options for those who have been in prison. Electronic field trips are provided and video programs are selected that tie directly into state standards. Teachers may tape programs and use them throughout the year. And lesson plans and additional teaching aids are available on the service's Web site, along with discussion forums and a place to share student projects. Teachers in every curriculum area will find resources on the Web site to help them reach their students -- students who have not succeeded in traditional classrooms and need more than a written presentation of materials to learn.

Teachers not only are finding SAFETY-NET resources helpful, but also effective in challenging their students and reaching learning objectives. Carolyn Weyerts, a teacher at TYC's San Saba State School, reports a 75 percent increase in her social studies students' passing rates since using the service's video series, On Common Ground.

The programming and resources offered to support teachers preparing students for the new general equivalency diploma (GED) exam also have proved effective. Julie Cacianti, a teacher at Sumter Correctional Institute in Florida, reports that although most of her students will not go back to high school, they must have a high school diploma or GED if they are to have a chance at being successful. SAFETY-NET "addresses the new GED testing requirements and is appropriately entertaining, using multiple techniques to address diverse learning styles," she says. "I would subscribe to SAFETY-NET just to have direct access to the latest and best resources to help my students pass the GED."

The program also was designed so teachers could participate in professional development workshops and seminars in their own facilities. Every Thursday, professional development programs are offered, ranging from Freedom Writers -- Fighting Hatred With Language Arts to Data Analysis and Improving Student Performance, to specific training about the new GED exam. Other teachers have created most of the professional development programs offered by the network; however, each month, SAFETY-NET produces at least one teleconference that addresses issues that have been raised by participants -- usually focusing on a specific subject area.

Last year, a math teacher at one of Florida's correctional facilities was featured along with video footage from her classroom, explaining how she uses students in the classroom as math tutors. "This was a demonstration of a very effective strategy to meet the demand of multilevel learning in the same classroom presented by someone who is actually in the classroom day after day," says April Kahn, SAFETY-NET curriculum coordinator in Florida. In addition, the service provides highlights about upcoming programs or new resources available on the Web site. …

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