Teenagers in detention center still in school

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 31, 2002

Lilly Cowan, the teacher at the Warren County Youth Detention Center, explains lesson plans for the day. (The Vicksburg Post/VICTOR SUMERALL)

[10/31/02]For youths confined in the detention center built for them here, there’s no escape from school.

“The first couple of weeks I was the Wicked Witch of the West,” said Lilly Cowan, teacher in the new program. “These students aren’t used to having to do school activities, but now we go to school’ from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.”

And, Cowan said, some of the youthful offenders are coming around.

Responding to federal court rulings, the Warren County Board of Supervisors used part of a $5.3 million bond issue six years ago to build the youth detention center as part of the county government complex at Grove and Adams streets.

Today, the center houses local youths sentenced to confinement and those from area counties sent here because their counties have no separate facilities for children.

“If we are gonna leave no child behind, it must mean no child left behind,” said state Rep. and Youth Court counselor George Flaggs with reference to the federal “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.”

Cowan, who had been teaching in the Vicksburg Warren School District for four years, was reassigned when the detention center program began Aug. 12.

“We need to reach all students, even the ones who are incarcerated,” Cowan said.

Detention Center officer Devol Williams, who also acts as a teacher assistant, said some students are enjoying the program and are gradually adapting to the more structured atmosphere at the detention center.

“The kids just used to sleep, watch TV and eat when the trays came. They were just incarcerated with no rehabilitation efforts,” he said. “You have to try to rehabilitate children. We are giving them something here that they can carry with them and apply it in the outside world.”

Cowan said 69 youths, from as young as fifth graders to as old as eleventh graders, have been taught basic study skills at the detention center since the program started.

“We try to follow lesson plans sent over from the students’ respective schools so the students won’t fall behind in school,” Cowan said. “That makes the transition smoother when they are accepted back at their regular schools.”

Flaggs said the youth detention schooling has been needed in the school system.

“We’ve talked about the program for a number of years and this board of trustees approved funding,” Flaggs said.

VWSD Superintendent Donald Oakes said the funding includes the teacher’s salary, benefits, supplies and equipment.

“We have about $35,000 budgeted for the program for the year,” Oakes said.

“At the end of the day the people will be happy with the money spent,” Flaggs said. “This is what rehab is all about. As these students become young adults, they need to be productive.”

The detention center is operated by the Warren County Sheriff’s Department. The school district also operates the Center for Alternative Programs, housed at Bovina, for students who are not progressing in other schools. The CAP is often confused with a disciplinary school, but it is not. Students expelled from public school are eligible for another program, operated by the City of Vicksburg at the Kings Community Center.