Always stay engaged. Tell your students what you are doing and why you are doing it. Tell them they need to practice at least 21 times if they want to remember a skill. Remind them if they can hook onto something they already know, they are more likely to remember it.
We even get involved in social services. Martin Luther King Day is also the National Day of Community Service. I came up with an idea of having a food drive for a local food bank. They looked at me like I was nuts. But when I finished telling them about my idea, they decided they liked it. They realized there are people worse off than they are. Who would have guessed it, but these prisoners took on this project, and ran with it!
It was quite a sales job on my part, but once they were convinced they wanted to have a food drive, it was a treat to watch. It taught them compassion and selflessness. They organized and worked as a team. They formed committees, planned and publicized it. They made posters and walked the halls collecting items, even from the non-students.
About four hundred inmates lived in the building. The students approached each and every one of them, as well as staff members. They were strategic in who they would send down the hall to collect items. They knew who would be able to get the most from the other men.
We collected 305 items that were purchased from the commissary. The majority was their staple commissary food, Ramen Noodles, but they really did an outstanding job!
Every night I would take home as many items as I could carry. We only collected food items for a couple weeks. Then I contacted some teens from the local Boys and Girls Club who could drive. They picked up all the collected items and delivered the boxes to the Salvation Army food bank. Obviously, my students couldn’t make the delivery. So the prisoners learned how to organize and complete a fundraiser; they were able to contribute to the hungry, and they even collaborated with another agency in order to accomplish their goal. Everybody was happy and it was quite the success!
It is possible to creatively educate on an individual basis, to close the achievement gap, to enjoy the process, and still be accountable. Is it easy? Heck, no. It takes constant evaluation, adjustment, and passion.
If inmates of every race, culture, economic status and education level can show measurable improvement, so can your students!
Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students. The full paperback or digital version can be purchased at .