Monday, February 23, 2009

Jail visits on tap for dual-enrollment high school students

Cassio Saverino’s high school students are preparing for a class field trip in March. But this won’t entail a museum or park visit. Instead, students will pass through metal detectors and get ID badges to visit their trip destination: Maricopa County’s Estrella Jail and Tent City.

While the students enjoy the experience (and a day out of the classroom!), Saverino said the jail visits serve as more than just a straight-out scare tactic.

“It’s a great stepping stone for talking about civil rights,” Saverino said. “The students get a first-hand look at a jail facility, and also learn about the different levels of government and the basics of the criminal justice system.”

Saverino teaches a course on the U.S. Constitution at Mountain Ridge High School, and his students earn college credit for the class through Rio Salado College’s dual enrollment program. Saverino has been teaching the course since 1998, and leading the jail visit field trip since 2000.

“Jail itself is an intimidating factor,” Saverino said.” The minute the cell doors close, there is a definite effect on the students. But the corrections officers are open and honest. Students ask a lot of questions and there is a good exchange of information.”

Occasionally students will have the opportunity to speak with an inmate, although that is not always feasible. What is on the students’ agenda? “Their assignment is to eat the lunch that is provided to all inmates at the jail,” Saverino said. “That is kind of their badge of honor.”

Saverino also discusses administrative issues with the students, such as understanding the financial aspects of running a jail, the role of a sheriff, and the responsibilities of both city and federal governments.

Of the jail field trips, Saverino says he wants his students to come away with first-hand knowledge of our country’s justice system, and also “to acknowledge that inmates are people too. You like to think that all inmates are all bad, evil people. But many, especially those in jails, are everyday average people who just made bad decisions.”

“Visiting the jail and court is wonderful learning environment outside of classroom, and is always the highlight for my students,” Saverino said.

Through the dual enrollment program, eligible high school students can earn college credit for specific courses at their high schools. Rio Salado works with 48 local high schools to offer dual enrollment, including McClintock, Tempe, Marcos de Niza and Corona del Sol high schools in Tempe, and Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high schools in Ahwatukee.

“We have a lot of college-bound students,” Saverino said. “I encourage them to get as many credits as they can during high school, especially with the current state of our economy, so that they can finish a semester or even a year early.”

For more information about Rio Salado’s dual enrollment program, visit

About Rio Salado College
Rio Salado, founded in 1978, is one of the ten Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona. The college serves more than 60,000 students annually, more than half online, making it the “college within everyone’s reach.” Rio Salado offers general education courses as well as a variety of degree and certificate programs. For more information visit