COVID-19, Rehabilitation

Correctional educators adapt to COVID‑19 challenges

Aerial photo of a medical prison.
California Medical Facility.

By OPEC staff

Schools across California faced challenges during the statewide shelter-in-place orders. Those same challenges were also faced by schools inside the state’s prison system. Correctional educators turned to communication, cooperation and innovation to achieve rehabilitative educational goals.

“These are unprecedented times. Each and every employee of CDCR has been impacted in different ways during the development of policies surrounding the response to COVID-19,” said Lisa Moore Snedeker, a CDCR teacher at California Medical Facility’s (CMF) Mountain Oaks Educational Center (MOAEC).

Snedeker has worked for CDCR for 34 years, the last 20 of those as a teacher.

“I thought I had seen it all. That is until mid-March 2020 when (safety measures stopped) face-to-face educational services statewide,” she said.

Responding to the change in the delivery of services, the Office of Correctional Education (OCE) implemented distance learning and independent studies, much like community schools.

“As I have witnessed many times in my career, when called, CDCR staff step up to the plate. Immediately, CMF Administration, counseling staff, custody and teachers came together to develop a safe strategy,” she said. 

MOAEC teachers took action, by communicating with their program area teachers throughout the state. Team Skype and Zoom Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings were implemented, led by OCE administrators and academic coaches, providing resources for professional development and links to distance-learning resources. 

“In my years of service, I have been on several committees, attended many meetings for curriculum development and continue to be impressed, not only by the support of OCE and Administration, but by the energy and motivation of the teachers as they strive to continue to teach and support student learning and achievement under these new guidelines,” Snedeker said.

She said the level of collaboration has been impressive.

“Not only have we worked together to develop the highest quality assignments and assessments, we have developed videos, with the partnership of our TV Specialist, that air on the education channel, that specifically address the subject matter,” she said. “Whether it is Math, English, or Computer Literacy, the videos provide us the opportunity to teach, although through alternative means. The response from the population has been very positive.”

When visiting students in person at their cells, she said teachers are maintaining the six-foot social distancing rules while wearing masks and gloves.

“We have the opportunity to check on their progress, document information for the assigned teacher, and provide individual assistance and tutoring,” Snedeker said. “Students are eager … as they work toward their rehabilitative goals. I am inspired by the leadership of OCE administration and the collaboration of my colleagues and institutional staff.”

Did you know?

  • Every incarcerated person has access to education (see video).
  • All adult schools in CDCR prisons are fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges to ensure the highest level of education, and some Career Technical Education programs offer industry standard certification.
  • Learn more about the Office of Correctional Education.