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Jul 8, 2010 6:59 AM by Sharlee Barriere

St. Martin Parish School for Juvenile Inmates

ST. MARTINVILLE, La. (AP) - The interior of a juvenile St. Martin
Parish school looks like most youth-oriented educational
facilities.
Handmade paper butterflies and poetry written by students line
the walls of the four classrooms and hallway. Worn textbooks and
R.L. Stine paperbacks lay in stacks in the bookshelf.
But each student has a criminal record and will return to their
cinderblock holding cells after each school day.
The St. Martin Parish Juvenile Training Center, which is run by
the St. Martin Parish School Board and housed in a building owned
by the St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Office, is located directly next
to the juvenile detention center and St. Martin Parish Sheriff's
Office Training Academy. The facility's class hours run parallel
with other St. Martin Parish Schools and the program educates up to
30 juvenile inmates per school year and attendees range from ages
11 to 17.
Teacher Mike Fuselier is one of the three instructors at the
school, which opened 10 years ago.
For the past three years, he said the center has seen a GED
passage rate of 100 percent of its students who entered the
detention center under charges varying from truancy, drug charges,
theft, burglary and battery.
Because the program involves juveniles, state law does not allow
names of the juvenile inmates to be released.
Each morning the students, wearing dark blue inmate jumpsuits,
leave their cells and file into the classrooms.
Fuselier teaches reading, language and physical education. He
said to attend the teaching facility students must adhere to the
strict rules of a demerit system.
"If you would come here during class time you would think you
were in a classroom during the '50s," he said. "There are three
main rules here, and we mean it."
Posters in bold black print saying "NO NOISE, NO TALKING AND
STAY IN YOUR SEAT" are displayed in each classroom. A corrections
officer is always present during school hours.
However, he said, during the past three years teaching at the
school he has only seen three fights. He said this is due to the
young inmates' desire to attend the school, even if it has been
ordered by a judge.
"They don't want to mess this up," said Deputy Tim Sigue, who
has been the on-duty security officer at the school for the past
year and a half.
The building is owned by the St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Office,
which worked with the School Board to employ the instructors, all
veteran teachers of more than 20 years.
"They are constantly working with those young men," St. Martin
Sheriff Ronny Theriot said. "They are very disciplined; however,
they are still very caring and compassionate and are very
interested in the students." Fuselier said students can begin the
GED program at age 16 and the instructors work with them as long as
it is needed to prepare them to take the test.
Claudene Gauthier, known by her students as "Mrs. G," has been
teaching at the school since its inception in 2000. She said there
is often a public misconception that juvenile offenders are unable
to adapt to a classroom setting.
"We see some very bright kids come in here," she said.
Both she and Fuselier, who also serves a chaplain for the
school, said most of the young inmates have a very unstable family
history. Fuselier said some of the teens have never had a single
family visitor.
Gauthier said the hardest part of her job is seeing returning
offenders.
"I had this one kid come back and I asked what he was doing
here," she said. "He said to me, 'Mrs. G, I have a place to
sleep, I have three meals a day and I'm safe.'
"You can bet I cried," she said.
She said compassion is the key to being an instructor, but added
that "You have to make them toe the line."
"I think we are making big changes in some of their lives,"
she said. "Of course we can't save all of them, but we do our
best."

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