Penn State Peer Tutoring Program Beneficial for SCI / Muncy Inmates

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One of the goals of the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy is to help those who need education the most – people whose literacy needs are unmet… people whose needs are unmet. are often forgotten.

That’s what drives Kim Roush, adult education coordinator for the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy (ISAL) at the College of Education and coordinator of the Penn State / Muncy tutoring program at the Correctional Institution of State of this city of Lycoming County.

The peer tutoring program is funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and Roush identifies SCI / Muncy inmates who are qualified to tutor other inmates who choose to work to improve their skills. basic education.

Roush said she sees success in all “ways, shapes and forms,” ​​but the main sign is the difference she sees in individual inmates. “Whether it’s the tutors or the learners, it’s a boost of confidence for both,” Roush said.

“I always use the example of when a learner first enters the education building to meet me, he is usually very introverted, he is very closed to everything. They come sort of hunched over and head down, and they’re scared; they don’t want to admit their weaknesses. After meeting me, and especially after meeting their guardians and realizing that it is a safe environment in an otherwise difficult environment, then you start to see them come in and you almost see the weight lifted off their shoulders as they step over the door. “

According to Carol Clymer, associate professor and co-director of ISAL and the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy at Penn State, Muncy’s program is also designed to help people earn their high school equivalency diploma.

“It’s one way to measure our success in addition to their math, reading or writing skills,” Clymer said. “Another measure is to allow inmates to continue and take more courses, because there is a whole range of post-secondary educational courses that they can take in prison.

In addition, the Goodling Institute is always on the lookout for opportunities to do more. “We’ve applied for more grants to work in county jails, and we’re very interested in doing more across the state, replicating this model because it’s so successful,” Clymer said.

“It’s not new; peer tutoring has been around for a long time. I don’t even think this is new in prison. But I have a feeling – and I’m certainly biased – that the way Kim has structured this program and the attention she gives to the pairing and training she provides to tutors, it can’t be. -be not so common. We really want to try to expand it.

Mike Vail, director of the Career and Family Pathways direct service programs that serve Lycoming, Clinton and Center counties, said many learners in prison complete student satisfaction surveys. “When they talk about the impact of the program, some of them maybe never talked about it, but it’s really amazing the kind of feedback you get from these,” he said. he declares.

There are about 1,000 inmates at SCI / Muncy and their average education ranges from basic adult education to doctoral degrees, according to Karen Oliver-Rider, director of state corrections.

“The US Department of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics, the International Adult Skills Assessment Program, and the Prison Study have found that education and vocational training are essential to prepare adults to successfully reintegrate into society and find jobs that provide them with sustainable income. Oliver-Rider said. “This is important because more than 95% of the prisoners will return home one day.”

Vail said very few publicly funded adult education programs exist at a state correctional facility. When Clymer learned two years ago that state funding for peer tutoring programs was available, the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy applied to implement a program in Muncy. .

Inmates learn about the inmate’s program on the institution’s television network, as well as by word of mouth. Roush recruits tutors and learners.

“Someone would send me a request saying ‘I’m interested in being a tutor… I’m interested in being a learner.’ I would call them and meet them one-on-one, “Roush said.” I have a series of interview questions that I go through with them, a tutor-based series and a learner-based series. We have a job description for both roles, and we determine if the tutor and / or learner felt it was an appropriate role for them to play at this point in their life.

The program seeks inmate engagement of at least three hours per week, Roush said, although the COVID-19 pandemic has affected that schedule as of spring 2020. Roush still has to work from his home. Because no internet learning is authorized by the Department of Corrections, Roush submits a weekly information pack and a weekly video. The inmates fill their packages and Oliver-Rider scans it and passes it on to Roush, who corrects it and sends it back to Oliver-Rider for redistribution.

There, the subjects taught vary regularly, said Roush. From basic education subjects aimed at earning a high school equivalency diploma to work on basic phonetics, the list also includes basic math through geometry, science, social studies and English language. second for those whose mother tongue is not English. Roush must be an adequate match for a tutor and a learner.

Intangible successes among the approximately 80 participating inmates and guardians include a change in inmate behavior in terms of confidence as well as a positive attitude towards education in general. Tangible results come from an Adult Basic Education Test (TABE), which in the last edition cited 52% of learners who post-tested made a gain in their levels of educational functioning, according to Roush. .

Roush, once there, also asks the inmates what the program means to them. “I have had incredible responses to this,” she said. “Life changing; confidence building; it helped me. And one tutor said being part of the program helped her develop her communication skills and have appropriate interactions with others.

“The number of people who told me when they walked into that room in the education building that this was their safe place – it was the only place in Muncy where they could go and feel safe.”

Roush for the past 13 years has directed Department of Education-funded Tutors of Literacy in the Commonwealth, and Oliver-Rider in 2018 completed his dissertation titled “Teachers’ Perceptions of Trauma-Informed Practices in the Setting correctional education for women ”. Vail pointed out that Roush recently presented a national webinar for the Coalition on Adult Basic Education on their program, which sparked interest in how to implement a peer tutoring program in a correctional facility, including a request of the Missouri State Adult Education Organization to attend their annual conference.

The success of the program, according to Oliver-Rider, is due to Roush. “Using a strengths-based approach allows inmates to overcome low self-esteem and allows class members to be part of a team,” said Oliver-Rider.

More importantly, she said, it’s what Roush brings to the facility that has really sparked this interest among so many inmates. “It was nice and observable the way Kim interacted with the inmates, just being sincere in wanting to know more about them and how the program can help them and then help others,” said Oliver-Rider.

“So it’s a very cyclical program. During the design, consideration was given to how learners can become tutors. When Mike and Kim brought it up, I thought it was a very high goal, and maybe not tangible. But Kim proved me wrong in that she had early learners who, upon graduation from GED® or high school graduation, turned around and became tutors themselves. So it was quite remarkable to do it in such a short time. And that is what proves the importance of this program, ”she added.

Oliver-Rider has a poster hanging in his office with a quote from the late Helen Keller, an American author, disability rights advocate, political activist and speaker who lost her sight and hearing before her second birthday. The quote says, “Optimism is the faith that leads to success. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

Oliver-Rider said: “We are all optimistic as we look forward to Ms. Roush’s return to SCI-Muncy.”

Roush longs for that too. “Yes, I often joke that it’s not often that you hear someone say they can’t wait to go back to jail, but it would be me,” she said.

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