When Kevin Fortuna accepted the position of Corrections School Principal at the Quehanna Boot Camp (QBC) in July 2016, the Education Department was comprised of a corrections school principal, an education counselor, two Adult Basic Education (ABE) teachers, one special education/ABE teacher, a building trades instructor and a library assistant.
Since 2016, the Education Department has adopted an ongoing methodology of continual retrospection, self-assessment, refocusing and innovation. With the support of both QBC executive staff and the Division of Correction Education, the QBC Education Department has been able to increase educational opportunities that have resulted in significant rewards for the student population.
Despite the challenges of short-term programs, a mixed gender population and ongoing staff vacancies, the QBC Education Department has been able to produce impressive results; most notably, increasing the effectiveness of the academic program, expanding vocational programs and enhancing library operations.
QBC's academic programs include Commonwealth Secondary Diploma (CSD), Adult Basic Education (ABE), General Education Development (GED) Diploma and Special Education. The current academic instructors are Mike McCombs, Mike O'Brien and Curtis Wisor.
Approximately 6-10 CSDs are awarded each year. In 2015, a total of 13 GEDs were awarded. Principal Fortuna reviewed the GED process upon his arrival and implemented new instructional and assessment strategies. As a result, the number of GEDs awarded increased steadily to 55 in 2016, 99 in 2017, 101 in 2018 and 113 in 2019. The facility was projected to pass the 2019 total in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Matt McCullough joined the QBC Education Department in 2014 as a building trades instructor. He instructed inmates in Certified Fiber Optics Installer, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10-hour Construction Program, Custodial Maintenance and NCCER – CORE. In 2015, he alone was able to provide the instruction to award 357 vocational certificates; 413 were issued in 2016.
In 2017, QBC added four additional vocational programs including: NCCER – Construction Site Safety Orientation (CSSO), Landscape Maintenance, PennDOT Flagger and Mobile Elevated Work Platform (MEWP).
Also in 2017, QBC implemented an independent vocational study certification for ServSafe Food Handler. Participation in this program has been steady with 70 certificates issued in 2017, 189 in 2018, 129 in 2019 and 70 as of October 2020.
In 2018, Brian Bogstad became QBC's second building trades instructor. The two instructors were able to produce a total number of 759 vocational certificates in 2018.
In 2019, QBC added the NCCER – Masonry (Level 1) program.
A total of 819 vocational certificates were issued in 2019. As of October 2020, 677 certificates have been awarded.
In 2017, Corrections Librarian Susan Ermlick joined Library Assistant Kim Ralph in providing reentry programming which includes resume development, development of employment letters, access to union and higher education information, a self-paced typing program and financial/credit literacy.
The QBC library is dedicated to assisting both staff and inmates in the pursuit of education, expansion of reading, reentry into society, notary services and law library access. Resources are shared with all library patrons. The library staff has contributed to the development and supervision of the peer tutoring program and both provide notary services. The law library is available seven days/week and reference guidance is provided by both staff.
Ermlick has been offering the Read to Your Child Program several times each year since 2018. Additionally, in 2019, she developed and began conducting weekly Book Club sessions.
Inmate Employment in Education
All inmate workers at QBC must have a verified high school diploma or GED.
Employment opportunities in the Education Department include academic tutors, vocational tutors and library workers.
The nine members of the QBC Education Department, through the persistent application of effective educational practices, have demonstrated remarkable success during the past 4 years. Vocational programs have increased from 4 in 2016 to 9 in 2020. The number of vocational certificates issued during the same period has increased two-fold. Over 600% more GEDs were awarded in 2019 than in 2015. Finally, many reentrants contact the facility to notify staff how they are doing and to thank staff for all they did to prepare them for life in society.
James Stover, corrections classification and program manager, has supervised the Education Department at QBC since 2007. He said, "It is amazing to see what staff are capable of doing when given a task. The Education Department has far exceeded any expectation we have had. Principal Fortuna's direction and the work put forth by the staff have resulted in changing many lives. This is a very small department, but they are making a very big impact."
Frazer Blake, QBC Superintendent, added, "Since my promotion as superintendent in March of this year, I've been impressed at the determination of the Education Department and their willingness to go above and beyond to provide inmates opportunities to attain educational goals. I've seen them GED test an inmate the morning of their release to try to get them a GED for a better chance of reentry success. They are motivated to make a positive impact and it has a ripple effect on those around them. I very much appreciate their efforts."
For those inmates who embrace the knowledge and guidance offered, the QBC Education Department provides a ray of hope that people do care about them and hope they succeed.