Online education enrollment has continued to grow according to the new report, Digital Learning Compass: Digital Education Enrollment Report 2017. The overall enrollment in higher education, however, has fallen in the past three years.
“Education Is the Most Powerful Weapon Which You Can Use to Change the World” — Nelson Mandela
National Reentry Week was April 23-29, during which Pennsylvania Department of Corrections leadership visited a program that history very well may judge has the most effective intervention yet at reducing the likelihood of future crimes being committed by individuals coming through our system. It’s a program that’s been changing lives since its inception – a program that many of us have completed. This program is called a college education.
Pennsylvania is fortunate to have four such programs operating in prisons across the state. On Tuesday, I was joined by the President of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) Dr. Michael Driscoll at State Correctional Institution Pine Grove, where we were honored to sit in on a college class.
The class was facilitated by IUP faculty member Dr. Randy Martin and we both witnessed and interacted with the students who are participating in the criminal justice 101 class. I want to acknowledge the leadership of Pine Grove Superintendent Eric Bush and his team, in particular, for their commitment to making this important program successful.
We experienced a learning environment with engaged and inquisitive students seeking knowledge beyond the book. Dr. Martin shared that the writing submission assignments of the inmate students were more reflective of graduate level work than that of college freshmen.
Perhaps the most impactful moment was when we asked for feedback and advice about this program from the students. The first words spoken were sincere gratitude for the opportunity, and the simple fact that they were judged “worthy”, in their words, to participate, changed how they thought of themselves.
The students also expressed that learning gave them the hunger to know and achieve more and a belief that they have options. Hope abounded at last.
We left the classroom shaking the outreached hands of every student inside that prison in the middle of Pennsylvania, buoyed by the experience and resolute in the need to continue providing transformative educational experiences inside prisons. This perhaps is our best chance to reduce recidivism and allow individuals leaving our system to do so with a real chance for a different lifestyle, and as more prepared human beings than when they entered.
John E. Wetzel is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Corrections.
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In the coming decades students will join a workforce that is creative and innovative; many of them will use computers and technology to solve real-world problems. Students will need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to help them take risks, collaborate and devise solutions—proficiencies they need for college and careers.
Recognizing the importance of developing these tools for life, the open enrollment Cleveland Metropolitan Public School (CMSD) District, led by CEO (Superintendent) Eric Gordon, gives students in eight District high schools the opportunity to participate in Project Lead the Way (PLTW). PLTW, a program from a nonprofit organization that provides transformative learning experiences for students and teachers, was highlighted by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as “a great example of how [local education agencies] are leveraging federal, state and local funds to best serve children.”
Students in Project Lead the Way are excited about their studies because the classes are mainly immersive learning experiences. While they explore topics like 3-D printing and modeling, robotics, coding, digital electronics and building design, they often break into small groups and create models, construct and test machines or build robots that let them see the importance of working together and thinking critically to solve real-world problems. Projects expose them to the importance of creativity and innovation— in-demand skills they need for jobs of the future, some that have yet to be created.
CMSD Career and Technical Education Director Annette Darby said that PLTW is considered to be an elective and takes four courses to fully complete the program. “Superintendent Gordon wanted to deliberately focus on career and technical education because it’s emphasized in The Cleveland Plan,” she said. The Plan calls for broadening access to internships, apprenticeships, applied learning, and career tech programs and preparing students to enter the workforce as well as to enroll in college, and PLTW does just that.
The Project Lead the Way program is supported by several community partners who provide funding, field trips, scholarships and internships. Some of the partners include ArcelorMittal, Rockwell Automation, Junior National Society of Black Engineers, Cleveland Water Department, Regional Information Technology Engagement Board and General Motors. These companies see the need to educate young people and encourage careers in their businesses.
Recently, while following some students who had already graduated from the PLTW program (a requirement that the state applies to local schools that use Carl D. Perkins funding for CTE STEM classes), Darby became aware of a student who had graduated from the James Ford Rhodes High School’s certified PLTW program. The student was employed and recruited by a local engineering company that has offered to pay for him to take classes leading to a college degree in engineering.
“PLTW prepares students,” Darby said. “It is very much hands-on. Students can get scholarships, earn college credit; partnerships with businesses are so important.”
Some high schools’ PLTW programs receive certification, which provides students with the opportunity to apply for college credit or receive college-level recognition at PLTW affiliate universities. So far, two of the CMSD programs have certification – James Ford Rhodes and most recently East Tech High School.
This year, the Rhodes robotics team has advanced to the VEX Robotics World Championship in Louisville, KY. This competition, now entering its 10th year, will bring together the top 1,400 student-led robotics teams from around the world.
Students today need access to real-world, applied learning experiences. Thanks to PLTW students have more opportunities to become confident, independent thinkers, ready to excel in today’s economy.
Sherry Schweitzer is a communications specialist in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.
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