‘Education is the key to unlocking one’s potential’ says Whitfield
Submitted by Lt. Wil Landrum
Correctional Training Facility
Correctional Academic Instructor Rachel Whitfield has been recognized for her decades of service to education.
Whitfield, employed at Correctional Training Facility (CTF), was awarded the KSBW Crystal Apple Award. Her dedication to stimulating minds and improving students’ lives has contributed to a better community.
Raised in Texas during the time of Jim Crow laws, she attended a one-room school where the driving theme was “college bound.” As an African-American child, she was raised during a time when libraries, bookstores and new school books were not allowed in traditionally black neighborhoods. Still, she excelled in school and said she loved the process of learning.
In 1968, she graduated from Philander Smith College, a historically black college or university (HBCU) in Little Rock, Arkansas.
During that time, California’s Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (MPUSD) established a racial recruitment program because of the concerns of many of the African-American military families.
MPUSD sent an educational scout to HBCUs to recruit highly qualified teachers to assist in integrating the schools in Monterey and Seaside. She was one of three African American teachers hired at Monterey High School.
In 1970, she went from being Ms. Rachel Booth to Mrs. Whitfield. Many of her students know her by those two names. While her last name might have changed, her dedication, her expectations of students, classroom management techniques and holding students to a high standard for character excellence did not.
After teaching over 30 years in the Monterey school district, Whitfield retired but couldn’t resist the drive to teach.
In 2006, she said she found her calling as part of the Office of Correctional Education. Taking her decades of public education experience, she applied them to teaching the incarcerated population.
“Education is the key,” she frequently tells her students. “Education is the key to unlocking one’s potential and it is the key to empathy.”
Whitfield said she believes we are all human beings and it is our duty to help each other no matter where we are in life, even if it’s prison.
A few of her CTF students wrote a letter to KSBW, nominating Ms. Whitfield for the Crystal Apple Award.
“Though Ms. Whitfield could have retired long ago, she made the decision to seek employment with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in order to make a difference in the lives of incarcerated individuals; people who often do not have someone who cares,” wrote one of the students. “She has a heart of gold and we would be doing a disservice to our local community by not pointing out her positive attributes.”
With over 50 years of using teaching as her vehicle of change, Whitfield is still enjoying the fruits of her labor when students of all ages greet her on the streets, in stores or libraries.
“Thank you. I always had your best interest at heart,” she told her students when receiving the award. “I will always remember to teach the very best, no matter where a student may be. Even in prison.”