A former residential facility for young people in custody of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department is now a place of new beginnings, burgeoning with hope and opportunity, after being transformed, physically and ideologically, into a community outreach center.

The center is now focused on providing an increasing number of education opportunities in the Gulfton area to young people in the juvenile justice system.

The newly titled Harris County Education Transition Center, or ETC, has undergone numerous changes to its buildings and furnishings, and with this new look comes another new name: The Opportunity Center.

It’s fitting that a residential facility once known as Burnett-Bayland Rehabilitation Center now bears in its new name the word “opportunity.”

No other juvenile justice system in the nation has shut down a residential facility to reshape it into a place for compelling, relevant, and diverse education programs, local officials believe.

“Our principal, Stacie Brady, is amazing. She embraces the change necessary to have community schools where young people show up and then go home,’’ said Vanessa Ramirez, a strategic partnership manager with the county juvenile probation department. “Our GED program runs like a high-school instead of a test-prep program.”

One goal of the new center is to provide youths under county supervision the vocational training necessary for them to become and remain successfully employed in their chosen careers.

In February 2022, the official transformation process began with the removal of over 60 detention-style doors. Push bars were added to external doors, and residential rooms were repurposed into labs for high-skill, high-growth vocational training.

Volunteers worked tirelessly to paint walls and move furniture, slowly converting the old, residential facility into an education campus of the HCJPD Excel Academy Charter School. The school opened to enrollees in August, now serves 50 young people and has space for 30 more.

“Our young people are here from 9a.m. to 3 p.m. to attend our academic, vocational, and social enterprise programs. The center is open in the evening for WorkTexas training classes,” Ramirez said. “Our program creates a safe space for young people to practice employability skills, and ideally, access registered apprenticeships offered by WorkTexas.”

Job training at the school includes courses in building maintenance (in partnership with Goodwill and Camden Living apartment complexes) and obtaining commercial drivers’ licenses. Other career pathways and classes are available in drafting, blueprint reading, welding, HVAC, plumbing, logistics, and residential electric.

“Our community partners are incredible, and we rely continually on their support, the support of community partners yet to come, and employers who need and want an educated, excited, and eager workforce,” Ramirez said.

She emphasized that beyond GED programs and vocational training, “we provide a social enterprise component” that includes financial coaching, communication skills, conflict de-escalation, and how to receive feedback.

Even the staff’s job titles have been updated to reflect the school’s new mission.

Juvenile probation officers are now known as student support & transition specialists;  juvenile supervision officers are now academic coaches and other staffers form “care teams” designed to support each student as they progress.

The facility’s WorkTexas evening programs are open to the community at large for free or at low cost. Staff assist potential students with grant applications for instructional funding.

“It is poetic,” said Ramirez in closing, “that a place once used to criminalize misbehavior is now highlighting the incredible potential of these young people, providing them the opportunity to learn and grow, and encouraging them to become their best selves.”

WorkTexas Training Center @Gulfton Opportunity Center
6500A Chimney Rock
Houston, TX 77081

Harris County Education Transition Center (ETC)
6500 A Chimney Rock Rd, Houston, TX 77081

— by Jessika Leal