Approximately 47 students from the First Year Experience: A Successful Life visited Bexar County Juvenile Detention Center on Thursday, Oct. 5.
The first-yearsâ€™ trip to the center is one of the Common Learning Experiences, which are programs where students are taken to a place within the San Antonio community to enhance their learning of the material being taught. The class is segmented into three parts: what Americans see as successful and what makes them that way, barriers to that success and then finally international success. This trip falls under the barriers to success segment.
â€œStudents begin the day with an introduction to the intake process â€” how somebody might end up there and what happens when they do,â€ said Jennifer Rowe, director of the Writing Center and one of the courseâ€™s professors. â€œYou learn a little about how the parents get involved, so itâ€™s a lot of listening and watching for the students. Then weâ€™re kind of taken through the building in a way that mimics the kidsâ€™ days.â€
A large part of the juvenile system is that it focuses on rehabilitation versus punishment. The children there, in a lot of ways, are like normal children in that they have to attend school and have a structured day. When they misbehave, they are sat down and explained to why they are being punished.
â€œThe classroom looked exactly like my classroom in middle school: dry-erase boards marked with grammar rules, tables, chairs and cinder-block walls filled with motivational posters,â€ said Johnneisha White, first-year computer science major and entrepreneurship minor. â€œThe officers did not treat the children like criminals. Sure, the officers carried guns, keys, badges, etc, but they treat the children like children.â€
However, in other ways, the studentsâ€™ lives are extremely different. While they go to school and learn like normal children, they are also restricted to certain rooms and guards watch them constantly.
â€œIn the center, I was quite nervous at first,â€ White said. â€œI knew that the workers there were nurturing, but the environment made me feel trapped. Every door was locked. For a while, I felt only a minuscule part of what the juveniles felt isolation and confinement. The children at the detention center aren’t allowed to use technology or come and go as they please. When I stepped out, I felt relieved.â€
The students were asked to examine the childrenâ€™s barriers to success and how their lives have been so adversely affected that they have committed crimes.