CMC prof works with prisoners

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— A Colorado Mountain College professor is revolutionizing education where it is least expected a prison facility.

Since 1995, Pam Hogan has been teaching inmates how to read and write at a Colorado Department of Corrections facility in Buena Vista.

The CMC professor teaches English as a Second Language and Adult Basic Education at the Buena Vista facility. Hogan, 48, works with inmates who either don't speak English or function below the fourth-grade level.

"I think this is a very rewarding field to teach in," Hogan said. "A lot of my students are motivated in learning how to read and write."

Soon after starting to teach at the facility, Hogan established a certificate program that was approved by the state.

The program allows students who successfully complete its requirements to receive a Colorado Certificate of Accomplishment.

One certificate verifies that a prisoner can perform at a ninth-grade level and is entering a General Education Degree program.

The other certificate verifies a student is performing at the fourth-grade level or just below the ninth-grade level in basic education skills.

Assistant Campus Director Marie-Paule Truitt believes the certificates are stepping stones for inmates.

"For many students who never thought they could achieve anything positive, it is the first step toward further education," she said. "The certificate is shown to future employers and family and is a source of pride and self-esteem."

The certificate program Hogan teaches is to get inmates to the fourth-grade level.

"It is great to work with these students," she said. "They want to learn, and I can make a difference in their lives."

Hogan takes her work seriously considering the staggering numbers of inmates in correctional facilities that cannot read and write.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about one-half of all adults in state and federal correctional facilities cannot read or write, and about one-third of the prison population in the country have completed high school.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 65 percent of inmates are illiterate and 85 percent of all juvenile offenders have reading problems.

Hogan believes education is vital for an inmate in a correctional facility.

"Education is a very valuable thing in a prison," she said. "It's the only chance we have not to build more prisons and should be given the highest priority by the state.

"With education they have a better chance of getting a job when they are released."

For her work, Hogan has been recognized nationwide as a co-winner of the 1999 Marvin Joseph Sull Award in corrections education. She has also been recognized for her work by colleagues at the Buena Vista facility.

When Hogan, who is originally from Minnesota, started working in Buena Vista, she brought technology into the classroom.

"It is important to use technology in the classroom," she said. "When I arrived here I did not have a computer in the classroom. Now, I have 11."

Hogan uses a variety of computer programs to teach vocabulary and reading comprehension to the inmates.

"The computer programs keep a hold of the inmates' attention better then using pencil and paper," she said.

Hogan's methods have been so successful that other prison educators throughout the state are using her techniques.

Hogan teaches at the facility because the Colorado Department of Corrections has contracted its educational programs with CMC, she said.

Along with teaching 15 to 20 inmates a year, Hogan also has to undergo 40 hours of training a year.

"I am trained as a regular officer," she said. "There is also ongoing training every year that covers security issues."

The inmates that Hogan teaches are identified when they are processed by the DOC in Denver.

"They have been assessed when they get here," she said. "They are tested in Denver on basic skills. That test decides what education program they are put in."

Hogan, who has a bachelor's degree in Spanish literature and a master's in linguistics, hopes to finish out her career teaching inmates.

"Working with inmates can be rewarding, but it does have its down times," she said.

"It is not a bed of roses every day, but I hope to teach the rest of my career here. I enjoy it."

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