Hands‑on learning is goal of new Avenal prison 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 and it delays them entering into the vocation program they are interested in.

The IET program, implemented at ASP 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 who helps them apply academic concepts in a hands-on environment.

After IET students complete their vocation course, they will resume their pursuit of a GED or diploma. The hope is that they will have had the opportunity to apply the academic concepts they learned in a hands-on way in their vocation class to their GED or diploma coursework. The IET is rooted in ensuring that students have resources to constantly progress towards 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 at ASP. He believes that this program will fill a vital gap in education programming.

“Vocational pursuits are not as simple as people believe. The ability to problem solve, and possessing reading comprehension and math abilities is 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 be successful. Success is not linear, and 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 that his goal is to have the program available on multiple yards by this time next year, with graduates continuing on their educational pathway and inspiring others to participate.

Nicole Malan, Supervisor of Correctional Education Programs at ASP, said the IET program is a welcome addition to the institution’s lineup.

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