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Corrections Included at AE&L Conference

by Matthew Rose

In July, I had the privilege of attending the first annual Adult Education & Literacy (AE&L) Conference. As a person who is involved in correctional education, I was excited at the prospect of the theme—Innovate, Motivate, Integrate—and how it might impact my work and my interaction with other correctional educators. My excitement was not unfounded, as the theme of the conference addressed my needs completely. To better reflect on the conference from the lens of a correctional educator, I want to look more deeply at the sessions, keynote speakers, and the most unique part of the conference, the Think Tanks.

In my experience of past conferences, many sessions seemed as though they were not geared towards correctional education. For the AE&L conference, there was a specific corrections focus that covered a variety of issues that impact our day-to-day jobs. We have students who come to us with a variety of backgrounds and issues that can inhibit learning. Also, we often have to come up with creative ways to educate students who were not always successful in schools. We do all of this in a stricter and more limited environment. Those are our challenges, but I must say it was easy to find sessions that helped us to address those classroom needs, and those sessions are paramount to helping our students with reentry to society and keeping recidivism at bay.

Two keynote sessions really stick out in my mind, and those were delivered by Dr. David Coogan and Dr. Kris Westover. Dr. Coogan had a writing class in a local Richmond jail, and he came up with a creative way to help offenders find their voices. Finding their voices allowed the offenders to change their lives, and the subsequent publication of their writings has impacted many more. Dr. Kris Westover, President of Mountain Empire Community College, shared with us a personal story about her educational journey. It truly motivated me and reminded me, and all educators, how much education can change lives. As a correctional educator, it is rare to find keynote speakers that touch our areas of work so closely.

Probably the most enjoyable part of the conference for me was the Think Tank sessions. This was an excellent addition to the conference to allow professional groups to get together and digest the information learned throughout the conference that day. I was the moderator for the Correctional Think Tank, and I must say that we went over our allotted time every day. The informal structure allowed us to delve into topics and share ideas and solutions to similar problems that we all face at our institutions and jails. Department of Corrections (DOC) and regional jail educational staff do not always get to interact with each other, so we took advantage of the opportunity. I certainly appreciated this addition to the conference and the value it added to our agenda.

Correctional education is extremely rewarding and challenging. Every day presents new challenges to be solved and new ways to help students achieve their goals. We know that education changes lives, and for correctional educators, the change can be even greater. We want to educate offenders to ensure that incarceration is not a ceiling to being a productive citizen, but a floor that supports all future efforts to grow and be successful. It is this goal that helps drive my work, and the AE&L Conference was a worthwhile tool that will enable me to achieve that goal.

Matthew Rose is the Western Director of Testing for the Department of Corrections, Division of Education. He also served on the 2018 AE&L Planning Committee. Previously, he worked as a high school mathematics teacher in Dickenson County and an adult education teacher in regular and PluggedIn classes for the Southwest Regional Adult Education Program. Matthew has a master’s degree in education from Old Dominion University and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from UVa-Wise.