The intercom squawks, and you state your name and purpose. The guard pushes a button, and the huge green gate before you opens slowly. Your car reluctantly rolls forward into the complex. The gate shuts behind you, leaving a layer of chain link and barbed wire between you and the rest of society. Welcome to Green Hill High.
Green Hill is known by most as a prison, but it is far more than a simple jail. Green Hill is one of six institutions in the state of Washington responsible for the education and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.
Students at Green Hill range from 15 to 20 years in age. When an inmate turns 18, he can be sent to an adult prison, or, if his behavior has been good, he can remain at Green Hill until he is 21. Most inmates spend about a year and a half at Green Hill.
Green Hill was originally established in 1890 under the name "Washington State Reform School." At that time it was an agricultural school. Inmates were required to raise crops in addition to any schooling they received. The farm portion of the school stretched over to what is now Stan Hedwall Park. As times have changed, so has the institution. It has changed names many times, from "Washington State Reform School" to "Washington State Training School" to "Green Hill Academy." The construction of Interstate 5 forced the school to eliminate the farming section of rehabilitation and reduce its size to the Green Hill we know today.
What really sets Green Hill apart from other high schools is the wide range of aptitude that its students have. Some have never been to kindergarten, much less high school. "I think it's hard for the average Chehalis kid to imagine how deprived these students have been," said Green Hill principal Dan Steward.
Despite setbacks like these, Green Hill manages to offer a basic high school education. The main areas of math, science, language, and English are stressed. In addition, classes in traffic safety, art, and career awareness are offered, and the school's journalism class creates and prints the school's newspaper, From the Hill.
Class sizes at Green Hill are small, usually ranging from four to ten students. Classes are taught in an independent style, utilizing educational packets and individual study to supplement the usual education. At any given time, new students can be admitted or old students can be released or transferred to an adult prison. Steward said, "We don't have semesters here. We're here all year long."
The math classes are especially unique. "You don't have two people of the same level," said Green Hill math teacher Dave Ternan. To help with this, Green Hill has been using a computer program from Jostens that finds the ability levels of each student in various areas, then assigns them homework based on their weaknesses. The program is used along with book work and class problems to help students improve." I used to be pretty good at math when I was 15, 16, and that was it. But then I came here," said Jermaine, a student at Green Hill.
In Ternan's classes, students who work hard are given free time to either play on the computers or catch up on their studies. Ternan said, "The guys I get in here generally want to get something out of it."
Life on "the Hill"
One of the central parts of life at Green Hill is its honor system. Students are placed on honor levels based on their behavior and how much of a risk they present. The color of the coveralls that a student wears corresponds with the level that he is on. Students that are on the highest honor level, those that are considered to be the lowest risks, are allowed to wear street clothes.
Students at Green Hill live in dorm-like cottages based on their honor level. In the cottages, which are named after various trees, students have most of the comforts of home. "You get used to it," said Alfonso, a student at Green Hill, "It's kind of like a barracks."
In their free time, students can lounge in their cottages, watching TV, playing video games, reading, or writing to their loved ones. Green Hill has a gym with a weight room and swimming pool, and students can also play various indoor and outdoor sports for recreation.
Teachers at Green Hill have to face different and more intense things than the average teacher. "As a teacher here, you have to put up with a bit more, especially language wise. These guys are cussing up a storm 23 hours a day. You can't expect them to come in here and be angels," Ternan said.
Fights are not exactly uncommon at Green Hill, but they tend to be more brutal than those at most high schools. "When they get upset, they throw desks. There is always that potential for violence," said W. F. West teacher Jennifer Wilson, who was an aide last year at Green Hill.
When discipline problems arise, privileges can be revoked and students can be confined to their cottage. If the problem is serious enough, students are sent to the Intense Management Unit (I.M.U.). Students in the I.M.U. are locked down twenty three hours a day, within one hour for recreation. Even in the I.M.U., students receive classes on various subjects. Steward said, "We're obligated to give all students the opportunity to learn, in some way, shape, or form."
Life for students at Green Hill is bearable but monotonous. "You have a conversation one day, go to sleep, wake up the next day and have the same conversation," Alfonso said.
"It's pretty boring and lonely," said Jermaine. "What I miss most is being able to make my own rules."
The main thing on the minds of students at Green Hill is the future: life on the outside. Some are going to return to the lifestyle that sent them to Green Hill in the first place. "There's a record over at Spruce [cottage]. Of seven people that got out, six got killed and one got sent to the pen," said Alfonso.
Not all are headed back to a life of crime, however. Alfonso, now 20, plans to attend Oregon State University upon his release. "I'm going to be too old to gang-bang," he said,
Jermaine hopes to get a job as a computer programmer or operator. Jermaine said, "I am capable of doing this. What is stopping me? Nothing."
Steward said, "These are survivors here. Now we need to help them learn to survive legally."