Valley State Prison pumps up education offerings

College records technician helps incarcerated student enroll in classes.
Carmela Balcazar, Merced College Admissions and Records Technician, explains some paperwork with a student, as another student prepares his own paperwork while awaiting his turn..

Merced College, Valley prison add classes

At Valley State Prison, education is getting a boost from Merced College and CSU Fresno. In May, Merced College registered 300 students.

College courses are in addition to the regular educational opportunities offered through Valley State Adult School (VSAS).

Education offerings include:

  • Adult Basic Education
  • GED, High School
  • Transitions
  • Career Technical Education

“Numerous studies have shown that the higher a person’s education level is when released, the lower the chances are of that person returning to prison,” said Wayne Tilley, school principal. “Valley State is working in conjunction with the California State University, Fresno, to bring a matriculated bachelor degree program inside the fence. However, to do so, we have to prepare our students and that’s where Merced College comes in.”

Merced College has offered classes at VSP for a number of years, but Tilley wants to double the number of college classes currently offered. Merced College has a dedicated team of staff to assist Tilley in this endeavor.

The team, headed by Jennifer McBride, Merced College Rising Scholars Faculty Coordinator and Professor of English, were at VSP from May 17-21 to register students for the summer and fall semesters. Summer offers 10 classes while the fall with feature 18.

Enrollment effort is successful

“This registration was more difficult than usual due to COVID-19 restrictions,” explained Tilley. “We were only able to bring in a few students at a time so my staff had to individually ducat each student.”

VSP Post Secondary and Continuing Education teachers Denette Zaninovich and Nely Llanos coordinated the registration, ensuring things ran smoothly.

“They were great,” said Tilley. “I don’t know how we would have done it without them.”

In addition to McBride, the Merced team included Admissions and Records Technician Carmela Balcazar, and Academic Counselors Yanira Anaya, Monica Macias, and LeNas Vangay. By the end of the week, the team had registered over 300 students for the two semesters.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, summer semester classes will continue to be delivered through correspondence packets. Hope is high that classes will be back to normal by the fall semester; however, contingency plans are in place if not. According to Tilley, classes are much more difficult through correspondence. The logistics of getting the proper textbooks and schoolwork to and from the students and college takes an huge effort.

“I’m very proud of my staff and the Merced College team,” Tilley said. “The extraordinary work these people are doing not only benefits our students, but also improves public safety by providing rehabilitative opportunities. It’s just another way Valley State Adult School strives to be the best correctional school in the world.”

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