Cumberland Times-News

July 29, 2013

Youth center education not improved by this


Cumberland Times-News

— I am writing to support the delegation’s request to rehire the Department of Juvenile Services teachers (“Delegation wants dismissed juvenile justice teachers rehired,” July 21 Times-News, Page 1A)

I am a retired youth center education staff and feel compelled to respond to this issue. The education program at the youth centers was the star of the DJS education program.

Our students received core learning services in math, science, English, and social studies toward earning a GED or returning to their home schools. Our students were in school half a day and then they received experience in vocational areas of carpentry, auto-tech, and aquaculture.

They also received training in culinary arts, landscaping, housekeeping, as well as visits into the general public during the other half of the day. Mr. (Steve) Haines and I built his auto shop at Savage Mountain Youth Center with the students, and I built seven other buildings for the Youth Centers using the students as my primary work force.

I can’t think of a better way to teach young men life skills and pride in their work than by teaching them to build something.

It took cooperation from all the staff and a firm disciplinary system based on a Positive Peer Culture Model. I would not have attempted to use power tools and dangerous hand tools and other equipment without a strong system of discipline in place.

This approach best suited our students, many of which suffered from various learning disabilities. The idea of requiring a student with ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, or other identified learning disabilities to sit in a classroom for eight hours and not have a chance to move about is, in my opinion, ridiculous.

Not every person learns in the same way. Some people learn visually, some by using auditory input and some are hands on learners. Most people learn most effectively using all three ways to learn. The system used at the youth centers was geared to use visual, auditory and kinetic methods of learning together in order to reach the most students in our program.

Maryland State Department of Education did not hire science and social studies teachers and these are core areas of learning. Their idea is to have students learn social studies and science across the curriculum.

Learning across the curriculum takes what the student learns in the regular classroom and enhances it by showing students how what they learn in the classroom can be applied in the other areas of the curriculum and the outside world.

For example: The classroom teachers at Backbone Mountain taught fractions and principles of geometry in the classroom, and I taught them how to use fractions to measure a board in order to cut it to proper size and use geometry and trigonometry layout stairs and other structures in my carpentry classes. We handled teaching English and science in this manner as well.

In 2004 when the decision was made to move DJS Education to MSDE control we were told that all the DJS teachers and staff would be retained, just as had happened when other state agencies combined some programs.

Why were these people not retained? Was it because most of these people had years of experience and were also higher up on the pay scale? The members of the education staff not rehired are hard-working, dedicated people with excellent qualifications and their primary concern was delivering the best education to their students.

Mike Lewis, Dave Simanski, Vicky Kaylor, Ed Bever, Shawn Sessa, Steve Haines (Steve decided to retire when he found out he was not going to be offered a job with MSDE), Charlotte Grim and all the other education staff at the youth centers combined their many skills, talents to make our program the best it could be.

The stated reason to move to MSDE control was to make the education delivered to the DJS students better. I do not believe that objective was met. I think we need to take another and better look at this issue. Or to put it in the vernacular, “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.”

The Rev. John Martin

Cumberland