Horticulture teacher Timothy Hinds shows a youth how to safety start the garden tiller at they prepare to work on the compacted sand of the volleyball court.
At this time, TJJD will not accept transfers from county facilities where staff or youth have tested positive for COVID-19. That decision currently affects Dallas, Harris, and Bowie counties.
Horticulture teacher Timothy Hinds shows a youth how to safety start the garden tiller at they prepare to work on the compacted sand of the volleyball court.
By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications
The boys in Timothy Hinds’ horticulture class are almost always on a mission. They assess soil and mix compost. They design garden plots. They plant. They weed. They harvest.
And oh yes! They sample said harvest. Tasty carrots, onions, tomatoes, peppers and watermelon are key to the popularity of this vocational course at Lone Star High School South at the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg.
The kale, meh, not so much.
But overall the tasting forays to the raised beds outside the classroom are happy moments and so are the days like this one when the youth get to operate the machinery.
Under a blazing morning sun, the boys are eagerly trying their hands at starting and maneuvering a roaring motorized tiller. This mission: To ready the volleyball sand court for play, and in the process, master the boisterous tiller.
While some of the teens watch from the shade of a nearby tree, others push the machine across the compacted sand pit, fluffing the soil in neat rows. By the time everyone has taken a turn helming the machine, half of the large playing area has been de-compacted; a solid morning’s work, before the boys rinse off, get a snack and head to their next class.
But teacher Timothy Hinds had noticed something more.
During the exercise, one of the students had stepped in to assist a new student with the tiller, helping teach the process.
“The best thing that happens is when they begin to help each other,” Hinds said. ” I couldn’t ask for much more than for these guys to help each other out and get along.”
TJJD youth are not always in a place, mentally and emotionally, where they can take such social steps forward, explained Hinds, who’s been teaching for 28 years, the last six at Evins.
Because the youth typically come from difficult backgrounds and experienced early traumas, they need space, patience and understanding before they can open up themselves and then reach out to work productively with their classmates.
“You have to be able to work with people, or you’re not going to work,” says Hinds, who switched from teaching math and social studies to horticulture four years ago.
“It’s easy when they’re already friends….but when you get people working together who are from different dorms and maybe they had even been in different gangs -- that’s a big accomplishment.”
Hinds says the youth greatly enjoy the hands on experience of working with garden equipment, particularly the powerful tiller.
Hinds counts another accomplishment that’s not always immediately obvious, and that’s the achievement of normalcy. The boys tell him they “feel normal” when working in the garden or tending the landscaping around Evins’ offices. They forget their troubles and their transgressions.
Over the years, many students have told Hinds that working in the edible gardens in particular reminds them of when they helped their grandmother or another relative or friend in their garden.
Hinds believes these touchstone moments help the youth envision a brighter future, and connect the dots between their learnings today and possible vocations later.
Some of the youth will pursue gardening or landscaping as a career, or as a bridge, while they continue their studies or build work experience. But even those who don’t may still use their horticulture learnings in home gardens.
Hinds teaches the class with that in mind, folding in life lessons and nuggets about earth science, chemistry (a good growing mix needs nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, for starters) and math.
“I work a little math in there every now and then: What’s the volume of the materials needed? What’s the cost?” he says.
Hinds, who spent part of his youth helping a grandfather on a farm, imparts garden wisdom he’s picked up over decades and also follows a curriculum of the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association, which awards an “endorsement” to the students who complete the program.
In the garden, Hinds eschews synthetic chemicals and pesticides, because these can be dangerous for kids to work around and are difficult to store safely. So he winds up teaching the latest best organic practices, which he believes produce the best tasting fruits and vegetables anyway, even though this requires sharing plants, to an extent, with persistent pests.
The boys also have grown flowers, which go over big as gifts, but growing edibles goes on year-round at Evins, with the exception of the brutal hot middle of the summer. This equips the youth for jobs in nurseries, greenhouses and other enterprises. Such jobs can be hard and require “weather hardy” workers, but they’re almost always available, Hinds said.
The youth grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, including several tomato plants that yield nibbles.
The same is true for landscaping work. Youth can nearly always find a job with a lawn mowing crew, and can even open their own business, making decent money. Others know someone who’s already followed this career path and can do the math -- $30 to $50 per lawn, multiplied by several lawns in a day multiplied by five days a week. “The kids think about that, and they know you can make a living at it,” Hinds says. One student in the class, cooled down after wrestling with the tiller, muses that he loves working outside, and finds that the smells of the earth and cut grass are calming.
As class proceeds through multiple growing seasons, an unspoken overarching lesson: That time and effort create tangible results.
“Right now, they’re eating some watermelons we grew. They enjoy it. They say, ‘We grew this.’ I say, ‘Yes, you did!’ So it’s a sense of accomplishment,” Hinds explains.
All right, this hasn’t happened with the kale. It was rejected it during an experimental appearance last year by everyone except two boys. Spinach, bell peppers, carrots and tomatoes fare better, Hinds says, though some boys tell him they won’t eat the “store bought” versions.
It is also true that sometimes a portion of the garden’s bounty ends up the target of a prank. Watermelons and cherry tomatoes have gone MIA.
These small heists are not the work of students in the horticulture class, Hinds believes, but are masterminded by other students. Sometimes, they provide memorable teachable moments.
Once students who’d dramatically demolished a watermelon confronted Hinds with the news. As they smirked about destroying the horticulture’s class treat, Hinds nudged them toward a realization.
“I told them, you know, my watermelon’s home in the refrigerator. ‘Whose watermelon did you destroy?’
“Oh, yeah. It took them a while, but…they understood.”
Youth in the class prep and weed the garden’s raised bed of carrots, which they also get to sample.
These are the valuable lessons that aren’t in the horticulture book, but follow naturally as Hinds coaxes out the best behavior from Evins youth even as the youth team up to conjure the best edibles from the soil.
And while Evins’ is certainly not the only school garden to deal with gremlins, it does see a range of issues, from root rot in the raised beds to occasional raised tempers and recalcitrance among the boys in the class.
Hinds offers incentives for good behavior, such as playing music during workbook exercises, and also keeps alert to the boys’ moods and special needs. He lends an ear when they need to talk or lets them sit out if they’re having a difficult day, following the guidelines of the trauma informed approach that is integral to the Texas Model.
“It happens,” he says without rancor. “How we deal with each other when we’re having bad days, that’s kind of an important life skill.
At the same time, certain basic rules must be followed. Hinds relays how a student in the class recently helped two new youth to agree to sit in their desks because it would make the class more fun for everyone (that is, the music could be played). Later, the campus coach for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), pulled the helpful student aside to reward him for good behavior.
“You’re going to get a reward for good behavior (at Evins), but we’re not going to focus on all the other stuff,” Hinds said.
GIDDINGS, Texas -- Dozens of young people graduated at TJJD’s Lone Star high schools this spring, and two students matriculated with a special recognition, having earned a “distinguished” academic diploma.
These two graduates attained a Distinguished Level of Achievement under the Texas Foundation High School program by completing advanced courses that exceeded those required for a high school diploma.
The students, one at the McLennan County State Correctional Facility and the other at Evins Juvenile Correctional Center, showed themselves, their teachers, families and classmates that they not only have smarts, but also grit and determination, said TJJD Superintendent of Schools Luther Taliaferro.
“We’re very proud of them, and of all our spring graduates,” Taliaferro said. “Many of our youth have had to overcome serious obstacles, and we are thrilled to honor their educational achievements.”
Indeed, all of the spring TJJD graduates -- 35 earning high diplomas and 122 earning graduate equivalency certificates for the 2018-19 school year -- can rejoice in their accomplishments. Many came from behind grade level when they arrived at TJJD, filled in the gaps and crossed the finish line.
Araceli Sanchez, school counselor at Evins’ Lone Star South High School, said that their distinguished student, DT, never doubted he’d go for the 26 credits, required for the distinguished designation.
Evins’ distinguished graduate said he knew he could manage the extra work, having done well in school before coming to TJJD.
“I told him, ‘you can graduate with 22,’ and as soon as I told him, he said, ‘Nope, I want the 26’,” and pointed out that he had not received less than a B in high school in his hometown,” she said.
“I just knew I had the ability to do more than the GED,” DT said. “I’ve always done well in school before I came here. It wasn’t really a problem (getting the distinguished designation).”
At McLennan, the distinguished scholar said he pursued the program because he was on that track before coming to TJJD and “partly to be able to say, ‘I did this’."
“And it doesn’t hurt to put it on resumes,” he added.
MART, Texas -- The McLennan facility recently enjoyed a concert and special addresses by celebrities and speakers brought in by Youth Direct Ministries, a non-profit that aims to help justice-involved youth as well as adults in the criminal justice system.
Musician Bill Gammill, a gifted guitar and banjo player who’s performed around the world, and nationally known rapper Freddy David, kept the event lively, delivering more than two hours of music in separate performances that captured the youths’ attention.
The young men also listened with keen interest to featured speakers Terence Hicks, an Army Ranger and paratrooper who spoke about the trauma of being raised by a violent, mentally ill father.
Don Smarto, the founder of Youth Direct Ministries, also spoke to the more than two dozen gathered youth. Smarto, a Dallas radio host, founded YDM in 2001 and has helped present programs at some 800 correctional facilities across 18 states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Colorado, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Texas.
Each segment of the McLennan program lasted for more than an hour at this latest retreat, with a 45-minute break during which Youth Direct-trained volunteers met with youth in small groups to shared Biblical values and offer inspiration.
Smarto has dedicated nearly two decades to coordinating Youth Direct because early in his career, while working as a Chicago probation officer, he realized that simply confining young people was not changing them, he said. They needed more attention and assistance, including mentoring and, he believed, spiritual guidance.
“I mentored troubled youth who turned away from gangs and crime. Many who I helped went on to college,” Smarto said. “I believe the spiritual part of a person is as important as good nutrition, exercise and education. I believe God can change a heart.”
As a non-profit, we bring trained volunteers into state and country juvenile facilities to share Biblical values including honesty, the renunciation of gangs, violence and illegal drugs, said Smarto, who is an ordained Baptist minister. Our ministry brings in talented musicians and quality speakers in a program designed to grab the attention of the youth, he said.
“Our hope is to reach youth with a message that change is possible and they can live a good life with positive values,” he said.
Youth Direct has been to every Texas youth facility, with repeated visits to Gainesville, Mart, McFadden and others, some now closed, he added. Programs have included a man flying over a facility with a rocket-pack, professional athletes, a NASCAR driver, a motorcycle in a circular cage and a magician.
Smarto hosts the show “Parenting Today’s Youth” on WBAP radio in Dallas.
By Eduardo Garza, Superintendent of Tamayo Halfway House
The ultimate goal of the Texas Model is to create a culture that empowers youth to develop self-control and learn skills that allow them to transition successfully into adulthood. The Tamayo House Boys Running Team members are not only learning self-control but they are practicing it daily in their running regimen.
They are finding out that if you train, and train consistently, you will see improvement in your results.
The team from Tamayo House first experienced the rewards of these efforts at a 5K Run on April 6. The boys were all smiles as each of them completed that race of just over three miles.
Seeing their drive, Coach Gabriel Donez and myself knew we could push them to do more. So we asked them if they wanted to participate in a 10K run (6.2 miles) here in the Rio Grande Valley -- the 2019 Summer Longest Causeway Run, which takes place on the causeway between Port Isabel and South Padre Island.
The boys just smiled and said "Yes!". They and Coach Gabriel Donez trained diligently from April 7 until the race on June 1.
The young men went all out and even developed their own logo, “Tamayo Strong,” for their T-shirts, with the help of Tamayo House teacher Alma Becerra.
The group, which calls itself "Kiss My Asphalt,” is truly dedicated. Even after going to school for seven hours or spending hours doing community service events, the boys would change into their running outfits and hit the asphalt.
As the days came closer to the 10K event, some of the boys doubted themselves, but they kept each other motivated and Tamayo staff and teachers encouraged them.
On the day of the run, four Tamayo House boys, Coach Donez and more than 1,400 people from the Rio Grande Valley community and beyond ran the causeway 10K. All four boys and Coach Donez completed the run, with all of the boys placing in the top 20 for their age group!
Out of the huge group of 1,400 hundred runners, the boys took overall places of 71, 82, 281, and 397.
After the event, the youth got to eat lunch at the beach and soak their tired feet in the ocean.
None of this would have been possible without the support of the Tamayo House staff, Retired Sgt. Major (US Army) Enrique Garza who generously helped pay the entrance fees for the boys and staff, and Coach Donez for getting them in shape physically and mentally.
These boys truly are "Tamayo Strong".
Edinburg, TEXAS -- It takes a special type of person to listen to someone’s problems -- and Ernestina Barreiro is that person.
Barreiro has been volunteering at Evins Regional Juvenile Center since 2007 as a member of the Catholic Dioceses of Brownsville. Initially, she signed up to help youth with their religious studies. During one of the classes, she noticed a young man who was having trouble speaking English. In 2008, Barreiro asked that she be allowed to work with that youth.
She wanted to ensure he learned to read, write and communicate in English and to help reinforce the range of topics he needed to study at campus high school, Lone Star High School South.
The mentorship worked so well that by the time he left the facility the youth had mastered the required academics and earned his GED.
-- Youth at Evins Regional Juvenile Center
Before the youth left, Barreiro made sure he had money for food and snacks for the trip home. She bought him a $25 gift card and coordinated with other volunteers from her parish to provide him with a backpack filled with new clothing and hygiene products.
Barreiro went on to mentor many more youths. Her current assigned mentee, J.G., is a determinant sentenced offender, meaning a judge has given him a specific amount of time to serve and he may have to complete that time at an adult facility. The judge, however, could review his case and place him on parole sometime before he turns 19 and must transfer out of TJJD.
In other words, J.G., age 18, has a strong incentive to try to succeed while at Evins. But he faces challenges. His family has been unable to visit because of immigration and financial issues.
“I look forward to my mentor’s weekly visits because she is the only one that comes to visit with me during the last two years. Mrs. Barreiro is always helping me out to do the right thing and pushing me to study,” he said.
“At first, I did not feel like working towards getting my GED, but she kept insisting that I do and she helped me a lot. She is always checking up on me to make sure I make the right choices,” J.G. said.
Barreiro reports that she has seen a big improvement in his attitude over the two years of their partnership. Recently, he marked many milestones, she said. He turned 18; he received his GED and he was baptized. Barreiro brought him a piece of cake and soda to celebrate his birthday and stood in as a godparent for his baptism.
“The mentoring program is challenging and rewarding,” Barreiro said. “I am always encouraging the students to stay out of trouble, out of security and I can really see that they try and that they improve their behavior every time we visit.
“The more we visit, the more calm the youth looks and is really looking forward to the day they get to go home.”
The big reward for Barreiro and other mentors is the youth have made it through the TJJD program and are going home with a positive outlook, better equipped to sort matters out when confronted with negative situations.
“Mentoring is a good program because it helps us diffuse anger and is an outlet for us, as it takes us out of our usual daily routine,” said J.M., another youth, whose mentor is Ray Trevino.
For many youth, family visitations are not frequent, for a variety of reasons. But through mentoring or other volunteer activities, most of the young men at Evins have some type of interaction with community volunteers at least once a month.
In addition, youth are able to visit with family members through regularly scheduled webcam visits scheduled by the Family Services Department at Evins.
Sadly, Evins has a list of about 25 youth who’ve never received a family visit.
The volunteer program at Evins works with this list and caseworkers’ referrals to pair these youth with a volunteer mentor or an activity. The goal is get as many youth as possible connected with community volunteers, through mentoring, concerts, retreats, tutoring or religious programing.
Volunteers also help bring families for a visit by providing gas cards and assistance for hotel rooms purchased with the proceeds of ongoing fundraisers.
Meanwhile, Barreiro and other mentors continue to provide weekly companionship to the youth and an extra set of hands at campus activities and events.
“The end goal is make sure that the student is able to succeed while at Evins and beyond and to make sure that they know that they are responsible for their actions and their futures,” she said