Pathfinder Education Program
During the past several years the Education Program Staff have visited detention centers, participated in national training programs, spent quality time with nationally noted detention education specialists, and invited various educational consultants to work with us in order to gather information on what successful, high performance detention center education programs should look like in the 21st Century. It is our intent to create a rich, literate learning environment for every student in our facility. We continue to review the literature and research on "best practices" and learning theory as it applies to the education program for the Lancaster County Youth Services Center. Another component of our program planning was to create a name that would accurately reflect and describe our philosophy, mission, goals, and student performance expectations. We decided that the name "Pathfinder" would best describe our program as we are creating paths, routes, or courses that our youth can explore to become successful citizens.
The Pathfinder Education Program is a dual- focus program that embraces the concepts found in (1) the Lincoln Public Schools Philosophy Statement, the Statement of Purpose, and Goals for Students as well as (2) the Academic Requirements and the Philosophy and the Mission Statement of the Pathfinder Education Program. The education program supports both of these documents as individuals requiring confinement remain students of the Lincoln Public Schools.
The students in the Pathfinder Education Program have diverse backgrounds, interests, needs, and academic records. It is the mission of the education program to provide educational opportunities that allows students the opportunity to enhance basic academic skills, technology, career options, and develop personal growth skills through individualized instructional programs of study. The education program introduces multiple pathways which might include earning credits toward completing a high school diploma, preparation for the General Education Diploma testing, and Skills needed for lifelong learning.
The professional staff maintains and monitors an instructional program that follows the Lincoln Public Schools course of study and is available to all youth confined within the Lancaster County Youth Services Center; and
The professional staff develops an individually prescribed educational program that will allow the student to do credit recovery work, GED preparation work/testing, and post- high school work.
Students demonstrate the improvement of knowledge and understanding in the basic skills subjects, technology, and career education as required by the Lincoln Public Schools course of study; and
Students develop skills and attitudes essential to return to the mainstream school setting, to enter into an alternative setting, to enter into the job market, and enter to the community.
Student Performance Expectations
In order to meet the expectations of the Pathfinder Education Program and Lincoln Public Schools, each student is provided the opportunity to access the regular curriculum of the Lincoln Public Schools. The opportunity to learn and recover credit in regular school courses is accomplished through individually designed educational plans: Upon entry into the Pathfinder Education Program the student will:
- Work at his/her ability level in an individualized education program which accurately reflect the student's level of achievement in relationship to the Lincoln Public Schools course of study for credit and graduation or prepare for the General Education Diploma.
- Work in the education program as designed by the professional staff within the time constraints of the judicial system.
- Show evidence of understanding and skill acquisition as reflected in classroom work, homework, and testing as required by the professional staff.
- Demonstrate awareness of the Pathfinder Education Program and Lincoln Public Schools policies, procedures, rules and regulations in order to take the opportunity to do credit recovery work, make up incomplete assignments, and prepare for the GED and/or post secondary work in order to maximize educational opportunities provided by the Pathfinder Education program.
The Pathfinder Program is a comprehensive program which meets the individual needs of youth in detention. In the initial stages of building and program planning, it became apparent that youth, teachers, and agency staff needed to have the best possible building design and environment as well as access to technology as we planned to make a positive difference in the lives of the youth we meet.
The education area for the new facility was designed to implement this comprehensive program and still maintain the safety and security necessary to the facility. Included in the building planning are two special rooms designed for testing, individual work, and time-out use for youth struggling with behavior or circumstances surrounding detainment. Also included is a special designed room for lifeskills and science which contains kitchen and laundry appliances, specially designed space for science activities, and the necessary space for community volunteers to work with the youth. All instructional areas and living units have computers with internet access, closed circuit television, vcrs, and access to the cable system.
At the heart of the education program are the teachers. The need for an education staff that has a special place or "heart" for high at risk youth is a foundational concept; the staff expectations include caring, compassion, flexibility, and an understanding of the unique needs of youth as they move through the regular school programs and the juvenile justice system. Additionally, the program design is based on the concept of being multiple phase or multiple entry and exit program design for each youth. Because each youth come to us with gaps in their educational development, we need to identify needs as quickly as possible and design individual educational plans to meet those needs. We know all of the youth will leave our program better off than when they entered it.
Our core program includes English, social studies, math, science, computer skills, physical education and health. These are designed to run parallel with the regular school curriculum or graduation path. Research shows that youth in detention need a rich, literate, intensive information environment as well as individualized instruction. To meet these needs, the Pathfinder Education Program includes fine arts, special education, GED, reading, career planning, computer assisted instruction, and lifeskills. In reviewing learning theory and what can be applied to youth in our setting, it is imperative that a low teacher-student ratio become part of the school plan. Since we are in a short-term setting, teacher-student relationships have to be developed as quickly as possible. Behavior research indicates that high trust relationships will assist in moving the youth into accepting instruction with confidence in the learning process and skill acquisition. Brain research as applied to the high risk youth in our setting lead to the development and implementation of a six period day, forty minute class periods to address time on task,. attention span, and a learning environment that promotes and encourages the acquisition of strong, positive learning skills.
Our education program is year around as youth move into the detention setting continuously. Within the behavior management plan for our setting, school attendance is mandatory with the expectation that work will be accomplished according to students' individual skill and ability levels. Therefore, it is important that credit recovery be an incentive so youth may earn credit while in this setting. Lincoln Public Schools offers course credit for work completed that meets the standards of the district curriculum and the Pathfinder Program. Credit earned and attendance record becomes part of each youth's permanent school file.
The education program for the Lancaster County Youth Services Center is provided through an intergovernmental agreement between Lincoln Public Schools Educational Service Unit and Lancaster County. Funding for the program comes from the Nebraska Health and Human Services Department and Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The annual budget for the education program is approved by the Lancaster County Board, the School Board, and the Department of Health and Human Services. The education staff is composed of an administrator, teachers, secretary, and paraeducators who are employees of Lincoln Public Schools and Educational Service Unit 18. All teachers are selected through the human resources department of the school district and are certificated through the State of Nebraska.
Life Skills Program
Our vision of a comprehensive educational program for youth in detention includes an extensive life skills program. It is our belief that a highly effective life skills program should be based upon the most current literature and research available. With this belief in mind, we have collaborated with other educators and programs at national, state, and regional levels. We have created a foundation from which to build an exemplary program.
Our mission is to provide an individualized, comprehensive, gender- specific program which has its main focus the development of life's basic skills which we all need to be successful and productive at home, school, and work. The program focuses specifically on giving the residents useful knowledge which can be applied to their lives in a positive, practical manner once released from the detention setting.
Life Skills Education
In order to make a successful return to the family, community, schools, and workplace, our residents who leave our facility need an array of life skills. Important, of course, are the basic skills which are offered in our education program. However, being literate alone does not ensure a successful transition into a youth's home, school, or job. Therefore, we provide a wide range of topics and concerns for resident education.
Primarily, the groups are provided after school, in the evening hours, and on the weekend; they are facilitated by a large and varied group of professionals. Volunteers from the community are used extensively. Businesses and organizations provide education in their specific areas of expertise. We also utilize professionals within our own facility; for example, our nurse and the detention center staff provide education through facilitating groups. All staff members are trained to help provide the life skills education. The life skills program takes a great deal of communication between education and detention staff, so collaboration is of great importance to insure the needs of the youth are met.
In the spirit of the Pathfinder Education Program, we can think of no better way to help the youth succeed in life than to give them the tools and basic life skills needed to find a path that takes them through life and helps them to be successful, productive, and fulfilled people. This is our vision.