In early December I had the great privilege to have an intimate chat with Vanessa Donino about her experience teaching incarcerated youth. She recently started a blog of her own where she is sharing more about her commitment to the education and rehabilitation of the young people at Oneida County Jail in Central New York. Thank you Vanessa for sharing your voice as a guest blogger here on Chat with Teachers:
Why “Subject to Change?”
by Vanessa Donino
I had a bit of difficulty finding the right title for this blog; how can I find the perfect name that encapsulates the essence of my very unique student population? I teach incarcerated youth at Oneida County Jail in Central New York, and when thinking of a title for this blog, I thought of what my students have taught me—and the answer may surprise you.
My students have taught me many valuable lessons. I’ll take it a step further—my students have inspired me. Their perseverance and seemingly never ending supply of optimism is a testament to their commitment to improving their lives—a task which is not an easy one.
They do not have to be reminded that having a criminal record will dramatically hinder their chances of progress upon release. Former prisoners are routinely denied employment, housing, education, and other benefits that would help ease their integration into life on the outside. Gainful employment will be difficult to procure, even for non-violent convictions. Public and private colleges and universities include questions about criminal history on their applications—a practice that is being challenged right now by the state of Maryland, and by movements such as Ban the Box.
However, with these many hurdles that they will have to face, many of my students are driven to complete their high school equivalency diploma, and for a very proud few, to go on to college to pursue their professional ambitions.
Their drive to create positive change within their lives in spite of the many challenges they will have to endure has created a personal challenge for myself: I want my perseverance, willingness and adaptability mirror theirs. I want to be able to meet my life challenges with the same humble strength they carry with them through their own challenges. I want to be the educator they deserve, and the exemplar global citizen from whom they can (hopefully) get inspiration.
In this way, as a learning community, we are all subject to change.