Terri Brown, an education team leader in Ohio Corrections, shares how she’s keeping her students motivated and on track with GED preparation.

What is your official title and could you tell me more about your role with Ohio Corrections?

I am an education team leader and I am responsible for developing and coordinating the GED program. In this role, as a part of the Miami Valley Career Technology Center Adult Education Department, Ohio’s Aspire program, I coordinate the corrections component. This includes a short-term program called STOP (Secure Transitional Offender Program) through Montgomery County and two Greene County corrections programs, the jail and Adult Detention Center.

How do you work with corrections education programs, educators and test administrators?

I personally work with an amazing staff, their only exposure to GED testing has been in the corrections environment. Our students are in locked facilities and come to class with limited resources including no access to the Internet. We develop classroom curriculum for the teachers–this is with the use of books and print materials.

I do not teach directly, due to my role as the GED test administrator role. We have a full-time and part-time teacher for men and one full-time teacher for women. We have close to 275 beds in the facility and all residents that come in take a TABE test and start GED classes if they do not have a high school diploma.

I am a GED test administrator for men and women in the facility and I use a classroom as the testing area. Through Miami Valley CTC, we are beginning to do mobile testing in the Greene County centers, but the COVID19 stopped us before we could begin.

Could you tell me more about your background in corrections education and education in general?

When I was in college I was an intern with community restitution and community service program in juvenile criminal court. I earned a Bachelors Degree in Social Work and later a Master’s Degree in Education. After graduation, I continued to work in the community as an educator, an advocate for victims of violent crime as well as taught in a high school for 10 years.

Approximately ten years ago, I started teaching part-time in this role with corrections prior to transitioning into a full-time position.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing corrections educators and corrections education programs?

Some of our biggest challenges are the lack of classroom materials, scheduling conflicts and dealing with distractions. We have to create a lot of things we use. My instructors have had success using Scholastic magazines as a supplement–the students really like the current articles and the visual elements and the supplemental worksheets.

We do have issues with some of the older students that are not computer literate. The GED test highlights how important it is to have computer skills. We provide our students with the opportunity to work on increasing their comfort and skill using a computer.

Getting them scheduled for classes can be challenging, because their treatment classes have priority and can be very challenging for them.  We also have seen an increase in students dealing with mental health issues that were masked by addiction when they were not incarcerated. The ultimate challenge for us is to provide them with the opportunity to believe in themselves and have hope they can achieve their GED. Many of our students are getting over being accustomed to failing in school and we want to give them small opportunities to succeed. When they obtain their GED, I make a reduced copy of their GED, the size of their badge, and they carry this around as motivation and evidence that they have the power to overcome.

There is not a lot of funding for corrections education, I have to fight hard to do some of the things we do but I have always been a fighter for the underdog. My teachers are very dedicated–one has been teaching for 14 years and another for three years. I also have an instructor that is working on a PhD in criminal justice.

What additional challenges are you facing with the COVID-19 pandemic?

To meet social distancing requirements we can only take in students every two weeks and we have to isolate them for 14 days which will they show that they are symptom-free. Prior to COVID-19 we did TABE testing weekly for new students and now we do it every 14 days.

Our students are still interested in testing and having the option to test is the “carrot dangling” that keeps them motivated. I have been moving to a mobile testing site to further accommodate social distancing within corrections.

What do you enjoy most about working in corrections education?

I love seeing the students learn something new. When they succeed you see how important earning their GED is to them. I’ve had grown men crying with happiness and a 68 year-old woman emotional and happy.

We take their picture with a cap and gown when they graduate and earn their credential.

When I see ‘my people’ (that’s what I call my former students) and they are out and about and they’re working, they often say hello and tell me that they’re doing well.

What is your advice to fellow corrections educators and administrators?

 Please take the GED Ready practice test. All my staff take a practice test each month as part of their required yearly training. This helps them understand the pressures of testing and they then can incorporate test anxiety coping skills into their lessons. It also helps them see what they should be teaching.

Our focus is building lifelong learners and teaching them to be inquisitive. Our students often need time to readjust and switch their mindset. I had a student tell an instructor that she taught him to be hopeful and that he can be different and dream differently.

I think it’s important for us to also share our stories of success and challenges and how we overcame obstacles. We should also be vocal about what our challenges are as corrections educators and share that with others.