Hands‑on learning is goal of new Avenal program

Incarcerated man marks wood for cutting at California Institution for Men.
Vocational education.

Entry-level vocational courses help students achieve basic education prerequisites

Avenal State Prison (ASP) is piloting the Integrated Education and Training (IET) program, in coordination with the CDCR Office of Correctional Education, to provide equitable opportunities for students who have different learning styles so they may continue to progress toward their educational goals.

Traditionally, students taking a vocation course must have their GED or high school diploma. This is especially important for a vocation where basic math, reading, writing, and critical thinking skills are constantly applied. However, some students often struggle to get through this coursework, thus delaying their entry a vocation program.

The learning program, implemented at Avenal prison in May 2021, allows students to pause their pursuit of a GED or diploma and enroll in an entry-level vocation course instead. They are guided by an IET instructor experienced in both academics and vocation trades. The instructor helps them apply academic concepts in a hands-on environment.

Learning program helps Avenal prison students

After IET students complete their vocation course, they will resume their pursuit of a GED or diploma. With their newly acquired academic concepts, they can then put the knowledge to use toward GED or diploma coursework. The IET is rooted in ensuring students have resources to progress toward their goals.

There are currently six students assigned to the first cohort of the ASP IET program. They are split between electrical, HVAC, and plumbing courses.

Albert Graham, a high school and junior college vocational instructor for 15 years, is leading the IET pilot program. He believes the program will fill a vital gap in education programming.

“Vocational pursuits are not as simple as people believe. The ability to problem solve, as well as possessing reading comprehension and math abilities, are very important when working on vocational certifications,” said Graham. “This program is really about equity, giving students of different interests and abilities the tools they need to succeed. Since success is not linear, the path is not one-size-fits-all. This program recognizes that. I really appreciate all the support from this administration and the help from vocational instructors at ASP for helping launch the new program.”

Graham said his goal is to have the program available on multiple yards by this time next year. His allows graduates to continue on their educational pathway and inspiring others to participate.

Nicole Malan, Avenal prison’s Supervisor of Correctional Education Programs, said the learning program is a welcome addition.

“We are looking forward to building a successful program to provide our students with the skills and career pathways necessary to be successful upon release from prison,” said Malan.

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