Learning behind bars: Teachers educating juvenile inmates

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the American workforce, but a specific group of teachers educate in classrooms where you wouldn't expect people to be learning.

Rain or shine teachers show up to educate students, no matter who they are. With her purse and coat in hand, Pat Bisson enters for what will be another day at her life long dream job.

"When I was in the first grade, I would come home and play school," Bisson said. "I had a little brother and a little sister and I would make them play school."

Bisson, a Massachusetts native, teaches both special education and junior high school students. Just as she imagined students would one day call her Mrs. Bisson, she couldn't have imagined where she would be teaching. She teaches at the Charleston County Juvenile Detention Center, in a classroom behind bars.

"I knew what the challenges were because I knew the teacher that worked here before," Bisson said. "We had talked about it, but as I go along everyday is different. Everyday is a new challenge."

Bisson says she still makes lesson plans, but it's almost impossible to teach a lesson from beginning to end.

"You could get new kids every single day," she said. "So I have to be very flexible.

The students themselves also have no choice but to go with the flow.

"The biggest shocker for them is this is jail," said guidance councilor Hamadi Brown. "We go to school in jail. A lot of them believe that when they come here it's just a resting period, however our goal in academic and social emotional skills as well."

Brown is the guidance councilor at the detention center. He says each student comes here for different reasons, but should leave knowing people care.

"Our students here have a lot of social and emotional issues a lot of them don't have the support factor whether academically or socially at home or at school we prepare them by conversations different activities and the community to provide that net work," Brown said.

Kids that attend school at the detention center still have computer class, physical education, art class and all of the same equipment you would find at any other Charleston County school.

Whether students stay for 10 days or 250 days, students must follow the same core values of the Charleston County School District and can earn credits depending on which program the student is in.

"The kids do get a good education," Bisson said. "We spend time doing lesson plans like any other teacher. We get up in front and teach the class. We have them participate to. I feel like they get a good education."

Bisson says her main lesson is respect. She says if students learn respect for people and respect for themselves it will help them through life. Hopefully, long past their time at the juvenile detention center.

"I've seen students who've been involved with the department of juvenile justice facility are serving our country in the military," said Terrell Pinckney, student family services administrator for Charleston County schools. "I've seen students they are working in the culinary arts, I've seen kids that are managers of restaurants, seen kids that go to college, that play sports. Being mentors, councilors, working as welders and electricians."

The Charleston County School District provides the detention center with two full time teachers and one teacher's aide.

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