The High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (HSLECJ) is now back in session and learning concepts that few other schools across the country offer their students. Recently named in the top 10 percentile of high schools in Houston’s Independent School District, the school has invested in creating outstanding Law and Criminal Justice thinkers. One of their programs making a positive impact in the classroom and the community focuses on geospatial technologies. They offer a class dedicated to geospatial technologies using Digital Quest’s GIS in Homeland Security Community course.
Students begin the year learning the basic concepts behind geospatial technology and project management in the context of Homeland Security. By the end of the course, they apply their knowledge to real-world issues and come up with solutions that can be applied in everyday life. Considering crime in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, students researched the problem and showed not only a correlation to area crime rates and displaced Hurricane Katrina populations, but also identified specific locations that were affected. "The kids came up with this study because it was something that they were seeing and they were anxious to know if they could use their geospatial skills to show if this influx was true, if it was a problem, and more," said teacher, Valgene Holmes.
One of the key advantages for students using geospatial technology and the GIS in Homeland Security curriculum is the added value of learning to identify, define, and research a problem. HSLECJ students, in a separate study, hypothesized that existing parole terms for sex offenders were being observed, but due to their studies also recognized that the evidence must be presented visually. They used geospatial technology to answer the spatial question: Are registered sex offenders residing unacceptably close to schools? They found 43 individual violators of these regulations. Ultimately, the students contributed to the arrest of these 43 by providing crucial information.
Students also have focused on cross-curricular topics and given back to the City of Houston. In one such project, students mapped the paths that civil rights leader and politician, Barbara Jordan followed while living in the Houston area. Historical maps featured past residences, schools, jobs and more painting a picture of the influential community member’s impact. Putting in extra time on the weekends, students identified and mapped unnamed cemetery plots in Potters Field giving a voice to some of Houston’s forgotten history.
A key to success has been their teacher and most ardent supporter, Valgene Holmes. Holmes said that when the course was initially purchased by the school, it was given to the geography department. Realizing the value it could bring to his program, Holmes is happy that he was able to take the course into his area of specialty, criminal justice. By doing so, Holmes has demonstrated that it is this type of cross curricular application that really unlocks geospatial potential in curriculum and student success. Furthermore, it enriches student knowledge of related “core” skills like reading and writing. "Kids really like this course because it is hands on. What they don't realize is that while they are working through this curriculum, they are using a technical manual, and following instructions so they are working on their reading and interpretation skills at the same time,” said Holmes.
What makes the program truly unique is that the students seek out relevant community issues and tackle them with enthusiasm and intelligence. The program encourages the students to recognize what they have accomplished and what they can achieve moving forward. Each student is required to maintain a portfolio of the written reports and project documentation completed throughout the course along with resumes, so that they have a body of work on which to reflect and promote in future endeavors. This goes to the heart of many current education trends that aim to improve writing and comprehension standards in all aspects of education.
Holmes also places a premium on his relationship with Digital Quest and the GIS in Homeland Security course whose goals align. Holmes commented, “The way the books are structured, they read about how and why to do something and later on the skill is revisited with fewer instructions, but by that time they already know how to use it so it cements not only the tool but the concept on why and how to use it in their heads.” Holmes sees the value that this curriculum could bring to many different programs - not just criminal justice - and wishes that more schools had it. "I believe that we are the only school in HISD who has the Digital Quest curriculum and I'm not sure why. It is such a solid geospatial curriculum that lends itself to be cross curricular" said Holmes.
Digital Quest is pleased with Holmes and his students’ successes. Digital Quest president Eddie Hanebuth offered, “Holmes has had great success inspiring students and promoting the value of geospatial technology and getting them to not only work through the curriculum, but to embrace their potential and to solve problems outside of school." Hanebuth added, "It’s a special instructor that not only follows course designs, but also takes the time to ensure students are aware of what they have accomplished and what their full potential is. We all gain from that kind of effort."
And how are HSLECJ students performing outside of the program? In University of Houston’s GIS competition, HSLECJ took first place five years in a row. Students have earned degrees directly related to GIS, secured co-op jobs while in high school, and gone on to immediate careers and internships with 911 and emergency operation centers. As long as he is able to continue using the Digital Quest curriculum, Holmes sees this as a trend that will continue.
To learn more about Digital Quest or their products in this and other career focuses, call 1-877- 5REMOTE (1-877-573-6683) , email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.digitalquest.com. President of Digital Quest, Eddie Hanebuth, twitters as GISGuy.
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