Partnership integrates ed, training for inmates

By Chris Yurko

A Massachusetts community college is working with local law enforcement to help inmates gain work skills and prepare for a high school equivalency test.

In Massachusetts, Holyoke Community College (HCC) and Hampden County Sheriff’s Department will use a $71,300 state grant to train currently and formerly incarcerated men and women for food service jobs while also preparing them to pass their high school equivalency tests.

The grant, from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s adult and community learning services division, helps to integrate vocational training and preparation for the HiSet test, formerly the GED.

“There’s an increasing drive toward contextualizing adult basic skills and including occupational skills with it, instead of making those sequential,” said Kermit Dunkelberg, HCC vice president of adult basic education and workforce development. “So somebody can be working on completing their high school equivalency and at the same time getting job training, rather than taking the test first and subsequently enrolling in a training program.”

The 15-week program will serve up to 36 individuals in two cohorts from facilities managed by the sheriff’s department, which will provide HiSet preparation on weekdays at its facilities. HCC will provide instruction in culinary arts on Saturdays at a pre-release center for the first five weeks and then in its culinary arts laboratory kitchen on the HCC campus for the following 10 weeks.

Upon successful completion of the program, participants will obtain a high school equivalency degree, a culinary arts certificate, a Serv-Safe certification and an OSHA-10 certification, which show they have been trained in safe food handling and workplace safety.
The first cohort begins in January.

Expanding a program

HCC and the sheriff’s department have for several years collaborated on adult basic education services and vocational training for inmates and those receiving after-incarceration services.

“We believe in the vision of increasing opportunities through educational transformation,” said Dan O’Malley, director of education at the sheriff’s department. “Our collaboration with HCC helps to promote the successful reentry of our population into society as responsible, working, law-abiding citizens.”

Most recently, HCC and the sheriff’s department have jointly run programs that combine culinary arts training and a college-preparation class. Students in that program already had their high school diplomas or high school equivalency.

“We’re targeting a little bit different level of education with this new grant, but there’s a great need for it,” Dunkelberg said. “Having the high school equivalency is really important for getting a job, and the culinary training should help them do that, too. Having the HiSet also makes them eligible for college or transition to college programs.”

Chris Yurko

Chris Yurko is media relations manager at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts.