By Heidi Wippel / Elementary Secondary Education Act Teacher

The last fiscal year – 2011/12 – was filled with many challenges for a school that operates within the walls of California State Prison, Corcoran (CSP-COR), one of the highest-security prisons in the state.

Despite the complications, the correctional education staff at Visions Adult School has managed to operate a successful school – including 125 graduates, a record number, earning General Education Development (GED) certificates.

This month was an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of what many would consider “lost causes.”

One of the graduates spoke about his loss of hope that was restored by his instructor, Pam Megeath, who inspired him to earn his GED, as well as earn vocational completions in Office Service and Related Technologies.

He said it was a quote from Winston Churchill that inspired him to not give up after serving 23 years in prison:  “To every man there comes in his lifetime, that special moment, when he is physically tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talent. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work, which would be his finest hour.”

The graudate thanked his instructor for being the one to tap him on the shoulder and for giving him that chance to do a something special.

The large crowd included family and friends, some of who drove hundreds of miles, who came to help the inmates celebrate their milestones. Thirty-three GEDs were presented, along with 23 certificates in electronics, and 16 in office services and related technologies.

The GED graduates were introduced by the Facility “B” GED teacher Sergio Ponce, who greeted the visitors in English and Spanish.

Guest speakers included Corcoran Mayor Raymond Lerma and Warden (A) Connie Gipson. There were chuckles when one graduate expressed awe at finally getting to meet a mayor. He said he had only seen mayors on TV and to get to meet one was really cool.

Visions Adults School is fortunate to be led by a Principal Bernice Van Klaveren, who understands the value of hard work and perseverance. Principal Van Klaveren took over leadership of the school in 2009.

Visions Adult School recently received a six-year accreditation through Western Association of Schools and Colleges, which is the highest accreditation possible.

It was accomplished by a dedicated staff of professional educators. All of the academic and vocational instructors are credentialed by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing and are considered “Highly Qualified Teachers,” according to the No Child Left Behind Act.

The education staff has been fortunate to have support from Warden Gipson, who fully supports the mission, philosophy, and goals of Visions Adult School. Warden Gipson said she believes that learning life skills and academic skills will help make a difference in the lives of the students, enhancing overall community standards and reducing recidivism.

Visions Adult School offers a variety of programs, including adult basic education, volunteer education, General Education Development, office services and related technology, vocational electronics, recreation and library services.

Visions Adult School is committed to providing a progressive and sequential learning environment to afford its students the opportunity to:

  • Set their own educational, personal, and career goals
  • Learn and develop social and career skills
  • Enable them to function effectively inside the prison and when released.

This mission statement reflects the balance of providing educational opportunities to a unique, diverse, and often challenging population, while dealing with the restrictions that protect the overall safety and needs of the prison institution. The objectives set by our mission statement keep us in line with the dual roles that the school must serve.