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Focus On Basics

Volume 7, Issue D ::: September 2005

An Active Advisory Board Meets Via Interactive Television

by Marianna Ruprecht
Admit it: Haven’t you been part of an advisory board that was no more than a rubber stamp, meeting because of some mandate, traveling for half a day for what seemed like nothing more than coffee and a fresh chocolate chip cookie? It doesn’t have to be that way. These county jails’ experience proves it.

—The Editor

Northcentral Technical College (NTC) and Marathon County Jail (MCJ) in Wausau, WI, have been partnering to provide basic education and career services to inmates since the fall of 1989. At that time, the Adult Education Act (AEA) provided funding for incarcerated individuals with matching funds coming from local jails. In 1994, the grant required that the grantee, MCJ, form an advisory council consisting of the following: a judge, a district attorney, representatives from the public defender’s office, probation and parole departments, law enforcement, the community, jail officials, and instructors and officials of NTC.

Over the next few years, the rest of the county jails (Taylor, Lincoln, Price, and Langlade) and the Menominee Tribal Detention Facility in the NTC district requested basic education services at their jails. As these jails were added to the grant, we were faced with this issue: Do we form six separate advisory committees (one for each jail) or do we group all the jails together and find a way to meet so that we have representation from each? If we combine, how can we share information and resources when some of our jails are 80 miles apart?

We decided that it would be difficult to coordinate six separate advisory groups throughout the district. NTC uses a communication system called interactive television (ITV) to conduct classes so that students can attend classes at campus sites near their homes. In 1999, we combined all the jails into one group and since then have used this ITV system to hold joint advisory meetings. It is cost-efficient and has allowed jail administrators, judges, district attorneys, instructors, NTC staff, and others to attend the meetings near their places of work rather than traveling for several hours to one location.

Cross-Institution Benefits

The convenience factor was not the strongest argument for a district-wide jail advisory council. The strongest argument was that national, state, and local issues would be discussed by a diverse cross-representation from each jail. All members would benefit from the input of others, and then be able to translate the ideas and decisions to fit their situations.

The decision to hold one cross-institution advisory meeting has had a positive impact upon funding. Funding is continually being reduced, and during the 1999 advisory meeting, funding issues were brought up. The chairperson asked if anyone had ideas about how we could get more funding to expand services at MCJ, since that jail needed to add basic education and career services to its newly built addition. One of the advisory members, the justice system’s coordinator, said that she would look into some possibilities. She did some research and discovered that the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance had a Request for Proposal (RFP) out for the Edward Byrne Law Enforcement Assistance Program to provide funding for education in the county jails. However, that funding could not be used to supplant any activities already in place: it had to be for new activities. Because MCJ was the only jail at that time in a position to expand its services, it was the only institution eligible to apply. The justice system’s coordinator, the MCJ jail captain, and the NTC instructor/coordinator collaborated to write a new proposal that would enhance and expand basic education and career services at the jail. The funding started in 2000; the grant application and funding were renewed every year for the four-year maximum allowed. The advisory council member not only alerted MCJ to the availability of the grant but she also made the collaborative writing of the grant proposal easy to do.

One Thing Leads to Another

The grant at MCJ, in turn, had an impact on other programs via the advisory group. With additional instructional staffing provided by the grant, MCJ initiated a recognition ceremony to honor students’ successful completion of the certificates of General Educational Development (GED), Wisconsin’s high school equivalency diploma (HSED), and other learning accomplishments. The ceremony has been used as a model by other regional jail sites. The additional staffing enabled the jail to start new classes such as financial literacy classes. Information about these classes has been shared with the other jail instructors in the NTC district via the advisory meetings, and the Taylor County Jail instructor has already launched her own financial literacy class. These financial literacy classes have been very successful at MCJ. The jail instructors have been requested to present at conferences including the state-called jail conference in February, 2005, and curriculum conference for all adult basic education instructors in the Wisconsin Technical College System in April, 2005. Without the additional staffing support, the instructors could not have spent the time required to create the new enhancements to the programming. When MCJ was no longer eligible for this funding, advisory council members had its history, reports, and grant proposal to draw on when crafting their own proposals.

Generating New Ideas

Collaboration and the different perspectives from the six sites greatly benefit the students we serve in other ways as well. Throughout the years, ideas shared via the advisory council have included parents reading books on audiotapes, which they send home to their children; piloting a financial literacy program; group reading and discussion of current events; and finding ways to recognize our students’ successes, such as holding a Recognition Ceremony.

Other benefits of the advisory meetings include opportunities to discuss the appropriateness of individualized vs. group sessions, especially for certain topics such as financial literacy and careers; computer-based instruction; and instruction for limited English proficient (LEP) individuals. In addition, the meetings provide a time for jail staff members to share and compare their jail guidelines and rules, for community representatives to share outside resources that may be available for the inmates, and for the sharing of resources among the jails and NTC. We are very fortunate to have advisory council members who are team players and are very willing to share their expertise to assist us in providing the best education possible for our institutions’ inmates.

In summary, partnering with other local jails throughout the NTC district generates new ideas, reinforces the guidelines of the grant, and communicates information to all advisory council members. After these meetings we are a little more energized to help our students.

About the Author
Marianna F. Ruprecht has been Jail Program Coordinator for Northcentral Technical College District since 1989, and an ABE instructor at Marathon County Jail, Wausau, Wisconsin. She has also taught in the workplace, in a learning center, in a program for disadvantaged youth, and at the elementary school level.

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL