By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
From Monday through Friday, Janet Yuon and Jose Reynaga work in the same classroom at Johanna Boss High School at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility (YCF).
Reynaga teaches Literacy, Reading, Music and English while Yuon is the teaching assistant. On weekends, the two volunteer their time and come back to the facility to meet with the students and their visiting families, and in many cases to translate in Spanish and Cambodian.
“I enjoy it. I believe working with students and meeting with their families on weekends is better and it builds trust between myself, and the facility.” says Reynaga. Yuon says, “I have families from Cambodia who come to visit their boys here and they need someone to speak their language.”
At O.H. Close YCF, 35 percent are Spanish-as-a-first language students. Many will be the first in their families to get a high school diploma.
So Reynaga doesn’t want any to slip through the cracks, and he knows all too well just how difficult it is to learn a language, and concentrate on a diploma. His family is from Mexico, and they moved to the Stockton area when he was a boy.
He has a line he always tells his students: “Don’t feel embarrassed for what your don’t know. Feel proud of what you have learned.”
Every weekend Reynaga can be found in the visiting area, either interpreting for Hispanic families, or just there to answer any questions anyone might have about the youthful offenders.
Norma Hernandez, along with her parents and a family friend, have come to visit her son Steven who is incarcerated here at O.H. Close.
“It gives us the comfort we need, cause we’re out there, and he’s in here. It’s so helpful to have (Reynaga) as a go between,.” she said.
The Hernandez family visits once a month from the San Fernando Valley area.
At another table, Reynaga interprets for Margarita Fernandez, who is visiting her 17-year-old son.
“For him to give up his time, is very helpful. He could be with his own family at home, but yet he comes here. I am thankful for his time,” Fernandez said.
Reynaga reminds us the students don’t always tell their families the truth about how they are doing in school or in everyday life. If he knows they are not truthful, he will jump in and tell the families how things are really going, and what the youth’s grades really are. They may not be happy with what they are hearing, but appreciate hearing the truth.
Michael and his wife, Leona, have a 15-year-old son who arrived O.H. Close YCF in September. They look forward to seeing Reynaga on weekends, and being able to talk to someone about how their son is really doing.
“When your kid comes here, you’re not sure what to expect, and to us education was and is important. Jose was able to explain that each youth comes in at their own level, and then the facility works on an Individual Education Plan (IEP). With our son he was having vocabulary issues, so Jose gave him 200 words, and said if he knows them and can use them, he’ll be OK. I thought that was good,” Leona said.
Michael said, “(Reynaga) is just a comfort to have around. He wants the kids to succeed.”
But why does he come every weekend? Reynaga said he gets as much or more out of it as anybody.
“I love it for the satisfaction of helping people in an area where they normally wouldn’t get help. … Keep them busy, and it keeps them out of trouble,” he said.