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Prison and pre-school parallels

School is out for summer. One ritual that we see every May and June is the painted cars of graduating seniors. With a little time, imagination and washable paint, many motor vehicles are transformed into rolling art work, complete with phrases of the day and classic quips.

A common phrase that can be found on these painted cars is “Thirteen years in Prison!” Naturally, a graduating eighteen year old would never really know what it is really like to spend over a dozen years in a correctional facility.

But are there similarities?

Corrections professionals, have you ever had a good professional chat with someone from early childhood education? If you ever do, you may find that there are many compelling parallels between the two occupations.

Before we delve into the similarities, I issue this disclaimer: The following is not intended to disparage students, educators, corrections professionals and offenders. This does not suggest that corrections equals education. It is simply an interesting look at corresponding elements.

Recently, an early childhood education professional showed me a cleverly disguised thumb drive. It was a teddy bear key chain that could have been easily brought in to a facility, loaded with dangerous information. She showed this to me because she knows of my interest in contraband control. Her find was insightful and made me realize that she understood the central goal in corrections is security.

I told this teacher of my methodical daily sweep of the prison library, leaving out no detail of how I search. I also explained other safety activities, including how I search the shelves, absorb staff observations, and read body language through the day.

I was surprised to learn that she conducts a sweep of the room each day for the sake of safety. “But these are pre-school kids,” I said.

She told me that it does not matter. She has a responsibility to keep the classroom safe. Otherwise, a hazard-in the classroom could derail the lesson plan and cause injury and liability.

First of all, broken toys are hazardous. In the same way that most corrections agencies deem any broken item as contraband, splintered toys need to be removed. The difference lies in the application of the derelict item. In prison, a broken eye glass arm could be a poking weapon. In school, the worry is not about a weapon, but that the item allows children to hurt themselves.

Choking and poking hazards are all around the classroom. It takes time and a keen, experienced eye to sweep the room of dangers. Also, some teachers assess how many toys are in play during play time. Too many on the floor can cause overstimulation or an occasional instance of theft. Too few toys may prompt fights over scarce resources. Just like in corrections, teachers need to know what items are out and how they are used.

Toys can be weapons when hurled as projectiles by a frustrated student. Inside the walls, we assess how common items could hurt us if they became airborne. Both teachers and corrections staff should be aware of common items used as missiles.

The playground, our equivalent to the yard, must be searched each day. Teachers look for holes in the fences and hazards on the ground. Some dangerous items that can be found are broken glass, hypodermic needles, animal droppings, shell casing, and more. Outside the fence, one can find feral animals and sexual predators. The perimeter need to be scanned to keep the playground secure.

Just like in prison, body fluids are a concern. Most educators are trained to treat body fluids as potentially infectious. At the end of the day, gloved teachers and assistants bleach and clean surfaces. During the day, care of the children may require contact between the professional and body fluids. Therefore, the teacher who helps a child blow her nose should don gloves.

Students have been known to bring in items that are inappropriate for the setting. Some may bring cigarettes, lighters, cell phones, minicomputer tablets and even toy handcuffs. On occasion, stories in the national news tell of an elementary school student with a gun in his desk.

And like our jails and prisons, the education professional has to be aware of outside hazards. Strangers may randomly wander in the schools. A vengeful parent or disgruntled employee can wreak havoc. And closer to corrections, an absconder could hole up in a school and possibly take hostages. The education process should be an open, inviting place. However, just with any open window, anything can come in.

It is my hope that children continue to have fun in school and make it safely to the day when they can paint letters on their car. This is made possible by education professionals who lay the base line of safety before the day and the instruction begin.

To be certain, prison does not equal pre-k through 12 education. However, both corrections and education are alike in the need for a secure environment. Without safety, the best education plan in the world cannot be fully used.

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