Above: Kim Roush, PSU Tutoring Program Coordinator, working with an SCI Muncy student.
Editor's note: The photo is from prior to COVID-19 and mitigation efforts, including masks and social distancing.
Education is one of the most important tools a reentrant has for success following incarceration.
Fortunately, for Pennsylvania state inmates, the DOC offers a multitude of options for diplomas and certifications throughout the state. SCI Muncy also boasts a unique opportunity: The Penn State/Muncy Tutoring Program.
Offered by Pennsylvania State University's Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy, the program features a grant-funded tutor coordinator from the university who works with staff at Muncy to identify inmates to serve as tutors for other inmates. The tutor coordinator trains inmates and supports them as they work with fellow inmates doing one-on-one tutoring.
The program is generally conducted in-person, although it continued throughout COVID-19 with a "modified schedule" where PSU Tutoring Program Coordinator Kim Roush sent in packets and videos which are played on the inmate channel.
Tutors meet certain criteria and they participate in a tutor orientation that Roush completes with them. This program benefits the tutor just as much as the learner by giving them a role and improving their self-worth.
"My detail worker was a volunteer in this program," Muncy Guidance Counselor Cathy Pickett said. "She went from being a rather shy individual to someone who was volunteering to teach other tutors about time management. She would talk about her learners and the pride she showed when one passed the GED or made gains was refreshing!"
The program began in March 2019 when Roush met individually with interested participants. She began one-on-one tutoring sessions in April 2019.
The program has been a welcome addition to Muncy's education department as it supplements the existing academic programs. Muncy's academic teachers—Ron Deeter, Tammy Kriner and Casey Blair—work with Roush to make sure that tutors are providing continuity of care to learners.
"This means that they will use the same (or very similar) materials in tutoring sessions that teachers are teaching in the classroom," Pickett said. "Even some of our vocational teachers have asked Kim and tutors to 'cement' some skills learned in the classroom. One building trades student worked one-on-one to better learn to read a tape measure!"
The following are testimonials from a student, a tutor and Pickett, Muncy's Guidance Counselor. This inmate was tutored, earned her high school equivalency, transitioned into one of the SCI's vocational programs, and is now taking classes at Bloomsburg University under the Second Change Pell Grant program.
Testimonial from Learner in the Penn State/Muncy Tutoring Program
Before I got into the tutoring program, I struggled with fractions and long division. My reading was low and my self-esteem was even lower. When I first met the Guidance Counselor, I was very apprehensive about learning. I was overwhelmed and I can remember telling her that failures consumed my life. I suspected that attending class would just be another failure. I was placed into classes with two teachers. Both were excellent teachers, but I felt I needed someone to hold my hand throughout this process. Even though they helped me, there were others in the class that needed their attention, too. This tutoring program was an answer to my need for more individualized instruction.
I started the tutoring program and met the tutoring program coordinator, who was kind and supportive. She kept me "in line" and worked with my tutor to provide me with the encouragement I needed. They worked with me to find interesting materials and information to help me with my attention issues. These items really helped me focus.
I wouldn't have graduated without this program and without my tutor. My tutor worked just as much as I did. She would reformat materials for me and she was always a constant encourager. My reading has improved so much. I maxed out the test with my teacher and obtained my high school diploma. I am now taking college classes and am in a vocational program. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Did I mention that I am getting A's on my college papers?
Testimonial from Tutor of Above Learner in Penn State/Muncy Tutoring Program
Ms. M (pseudonym) was a very determined student. There were moments she struggled and became frustrated, but she never gave up. She continued to strive hard to reach her goal. I had faith and believed she could be successful. I gave her hope by sharing other success stories. I wanted her to know - with dedication, it was possible.
Education is the key. I was grateful for the opportunity to pay it forward. I enjoyed being her tutor as we sat side by side. If she wasn't sure about a particular subject or math problem, we solved it together. When she figured out the correct answer, her face lit up! She was ecstatic when she found out she passed and received her high school diploma. She hunted me down to share the good news! I was so happy for her!
We both appreciate being involved in the Penn State/Muncy Tutoring Program. Twice a week we looked forward to being in such a positive learning environment. The program coordinator and the principal did an excellent job making sure everyone was comfortable. I want to thank the entire Muncy Education Department and Penn State. YEAH, Ms. M!
Testimonial from SCI Muncy Guidance Counselor
Ms. M, like so many other students, lacked confidence in her abilities. Many times, a student is placed in the classroom and once they develop a relationship with their teacher and settle into the classroom, learning starts to occur. This learner did well in her classes. She showed steady progress and her teachers were pleased with her performance. Despite this, she complained of difficulties with attention in the classroom and she repeatedly asked for individualized instruction. Teachers were able to work with Ms. Roush and her tutor to reinforce what was happening in the classroom setting. It was a beautiful union of our already existing educational instruction with the supplemental tutoring that worked well for Ms. M.
There was an immediate sense of relief with this student. She felt more supported and talked with this worker about her relationship with her tutor and the program coordinator. She felt empowered, which allowed her to take on more and more work. Small steps led to big gains and she was able to eventually obtain her high school diploma.
Upon completion of her diploma, she immediately enrolled in one of our vocational programs, our Machine Shop. This is, in my opinion, our hardest program of study. With the aid of her classroom teacher, Oak Alexander, she is doing very well. Alexander describes her as a good communicator and indicates that she is doing well within the program.
In addition, Ms. M was able to apply for our Second Chance Pell Grant program. This program allows incarcerated adults to participate in a 24-credit certificate program with Bloomsburg University. Initially, Ms. M regressed. She was insistent that she be given individual help with her college classes. Because of COVID-19 and the nature of the college program, individual tutoring simply wasn't possible. Not surprisingly, she designed her own tutoring program! She found another student on her unit that was also in the program and they work together to support and assist each other. The other person is a veteran to the program but amazingly, she seems to look to Ms. M for direction.
I love the front row seat that I have to this show. Ms. M has gone from learner to high school graduate to tutor/student in a college program. Her level of confidence still varies but she is working harder than most of her peers. She interacts with her professors individually, when needed. She now advocates for herself and she is obtaining high grades in her college classes. It's students like Ms. M who inspire myself and my coworkers to continue to work hard.