ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Oakview's recent perfect rating of 100 by the American Correctional Association is a feather in the cap of one of the leading facilities of its type in the state.
There are 12 state wide, with four being inspected annually.
But just what transpires on a day-to-day basis inside the walls at Oakview and how has it been able to help local youths who are often times on their final chance before becoming a seemingly permanent fixture of the penal system?
Oakview Juvenile Residential Center, one of the Ohio Department of Youth Services’ 12 community corrections facilities, recently received a perfect rating of 100 by the American Correctional Association. Pictured are Oakview staff members Crystal Cavano, case manager; John Rowan, executive director; and Lindsay?Grabits, shift supervisor.
Statistics prove that Oakview's program has worked.
According to John M. Rowan, the facility's executive director, Oakview residents have a 90 percent success rate of completing the program and moving beyond.
That figure is calculated by the young men's ability to stay out of trouble at least six months following the completion of the program.
"We like to think that while they are here, the services and programming they receive, the counseling, the support both here and with their parents participating, helps to give them the foundation to step toward the positive and not fall back into bad environments and making bad choices.
"It's like building a house. You start from the foundation and get the kids feeling confident that they can be a good member of the community. Once they start to feel that positive vibe, they don't want to go back to their former lifestyles. They feel better about themselves."
Boys between the ages of 12-17 and living in Belmont, Harrison, Monroe, Jefferson, Guernsey and Noble Counties may be placed in Oakview. They are all felony-level offenders. For most, it's the last chance to turn things around before serious time in an actual juvenile prison facility.
Providing the tools
The facilities provided to residents at Oakview are second to none and provide the kids all of the tools they need to get back on track.
There are classrooms equipped with a computer for each student to utilize.
The individual living quarters for each student is outfitted with a bed, a desk to work at and a closet for keeping clothes and personal items.
The bedrooms surround a common room where the kids can study, socialize and build a sense of community.
There is a gymnasium used for physical education and recreational purposes. Kids who have reached the proper level in the program have privileges that include using the facility's well-equipped exercise room.
Rowan noted the staff goes to great lengths to decorate for the holidays to provide that sense of normalcy and festive cheer as the kids can get down being away from home during the holiday seasons.
Every minute of the day is scheduled and accounted for from waking up until bed time.
Some of the kids at Oakview are behind in their studies, some considerably so. It's a challenge the teaching staff at Oakview sets about to rectify.
"Our school program consists of students who are basically high school age, and when we began this program seven years ago, our textbooks were purchased to correlate to academic standards of the state of Ohio," said Bob Fialkowski, one of the two full-time teachers on staff, along with Mike Alloway and part-time instructors Tom Pebler and Pam Robinson.
"We teach the basic core courses in math, language arts, science, social studies, physical education and health and the students receive high school credit for the courses."
Students stay at Oakview for a minimum of six months, sometimes longer, meaning their entire school year may be spent at the facility. The majority of students are able to catch up with their peers from their home school districts and sometimes more so.
The kids at Oakview are categorized on a level system. The higher a level the student attains, the more privileges he is afforded. Students at level three and above are allowed to utilize the facility's virtual learning program and obtain credits for additional coursework that goes above and beyond their daily classroom regiment. This is done outside of the regular school day, during study and free time.
"We've had five students complete their high school diplomas during their stay at Oakview," Fialkowski said.
There is also summer school at Oakview, a feature Fialkowski believes is paramount in teaching his students. While the summer school work isn't graded, it does keep the boys' minds working throughout the summer. They can also receive credit for virtual learning coursework during this time.
"We're basically in class 48 of the 52 weeks per year, and that's one of the problems with public schools," Fialkowski said. "You have that three-month period without school and it takes teachers a month to get everyone back on track."
Consequences are also a feature of the Oakview classrooms, of which there are two with anywhere from 4-8 students apiece, depending on how many kids are in the facility.
For example, if homework isn't done, there are consequences, a reinforcement tool being used less and less in the public school system.
Students have the opportunity to catch up and, in some cases, get ahead in the educational pursuits. And they do so in nearly a one-on-one environment because of the class size.
Laying the foundation
Most kids in the Oakview program are able to successfully complete their time and advance back to a normal life.
Doing so requires a sense of trust between the kids and the stuff and instilling a sense of personal accountability and responsibility.
It also has a lot to do with self esteem and building the belief that the kids can, in fact, better themselves.
"We have some kids with very low self esteem, whether because of issues at home or in school or, unfortunately, a lot of times these kids have been through the system multiple times and have been labeled as troublemakers," Rowan said. "They've been told they will never get anywhere in life and if you're told that enough times, you start to believe it.
"Our staff takes that challenge and works with the kids to get them to believe in themselves."
Rowan stated that as kids go through the program and level up, gaining more privileges, you start to see their shoulders perk up more. They believe in what they are doing and start to feel like they can return home and do something positive with their lives.
They want to do well in school, go on to get a good job and make some money. They want to experience life like everyone else.
The kids go to bed at a decent hour, are taught about proper nutrition and health issues and to refrain from doing certain activities. Drug counseling is part of the overall program.
"It's all about self accountability, responsibility and goal building," Rowan said. "So many times when the kids first get here, they are asked what they want to do and they have no idea. They have no concepts and sometimes have already condemned themselves to a lifestyle of survival of the fittest. They don't think they can go to college, get a good job, etc.
"We tell them you can do anything you want if you have the will to do so.
"That's why we stress academics, the importance of community service and in the counseling session, making the kids understand the importance of making good choices.
"Anytime you made a decision, you can be held accountable for it. You can be judged and be held accountable. You must weigh every decision you make."
Rowan said a perfect example of what is possible for these kids is the story of a young man who was behind in his coursework when he first entered Oakview.
But through working with the staff, a transformation was made. The young man wanted to break the cycle of negative actions and consequences and sought to do better.
He made up his schoolwork. He got ahead by taking multiple virtual learning courses and graduated. He then applied, was accepted and is now attending Wheeling Jesuit University.
He learned that there are people that cared about him and that there is a better path in life to follow. He's now walking that path.
That's all that Rowan and his staff want for these kids. And they go to work every day, working their hardest to ensure that they receive it.