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Blended Jail Instruction Links NWTC with Marinette County Jail
Date: March 16, 2010 12:10AM

Blended Jail Instruction Links NWTC with Marinette County Jail

The Northeast Wisconsin Technical College/Marinette Campus offers a unique program for incarcerated students at the Marinette County Jail who are seeking their GEDs. It began in February 2005 when the Marinette County Criminal Justice Advisory Council asked Pat O’Hara, Marinette Campus Dean, if there was an opportunity to offer some type of educational programming at the jail. Dean O’Hara suggested that the most urgent need might be basic education because so many individuals who are incarcerated lack basic academic skills and do not have high school diplomas. With budget constraints in mind, Dean O’Hara formulated the video conferencing idea. The concept was to connect video cameras between a room in the county jail and the Basic Education Skills Lab at the Marinette Campus.

In January of 2006, skills lab instructors Roxanne Bowdin and Gary Johnson began with 10 hours of instruction using the ITV connection during regular lab hours. There were many challenges during the next three years. Some of the challenges included disruptions (extra noise) to the campus skills lab classroom, the inability to see exactly what the inmates were doing (math problems or just doodling on the paper), coordination efforts with jail staff to get the inmates to the ITV room on time, and the unknown duration of time in jail for individual students. Results from the video conferencing were modest at best. Ten prisoners were successful in getting their GEDs, while four others obtained partial GEDs.

In the fall of 2007, three hours of onsite instruction at the jail were added with Gary and Roxanne alternating weeks at the jail. In the fall of 2008, an additional 3 of hours of instruction were added with both Gary and Roxanne going to the jail for 3 hours each week. Video instruction has decreased and has assumed a supplemental role since the addition of the onsite instruction at the jail. Approximately 4 hours of video instruction now occurs.

When the onsite instruction was added, results substantially increased. As of February 2010, 32 inmates have received their GEDs and another 20 inmates have completed partial GEDs. Approximately 75% of the students have raised reading, math, or language TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) scores, and a few have taken college courses. A future goal of the program is to coordinate efforts with NWTC to assist inmates with their pursuit of a post-secondary education after completing their GEDs.

A comfortable connection between NWTC and the jail staff has been established. This collaborative effort has been essential to the success of the program. Stephanie Timblin, a corrections officer, was the first education coordinator at the jail and now Ellen Hanneman has stepped into that role. The education coordinator recruits inmates for the program and administers the TABE tests. The instructors require that students have a minimum score of 8 on the TABE reading test in order to enroll in the program. Anyone with a lower reading score works with a volunteer tutor at the jail.

Roxanne and Gary gave a presentation at the Wisconsin GED/HSED & Adult Literacy Conference in Appleton this past November. They will do a more involved presentation, along with Ellen Hanneman, at the CEA-Wisconsin State Conference on May 3, 2010 at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake.

by: Roxanne Bowdin and Gary Johnson,NWTC-Marinette

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