Past and present instructors have provided information as to their experiences in the classroom with the Kates Scholars

The Elizabeth Kates Foundation is committed to providing a positive learning environment in which all faculty and students can learn together in a setting that encourages the free exchange of ideas and information

Elements that develop behavior that will foster success in the workplace and in our communities include:

Punctuality, Courtesy, Consideration, Accountability, Participation, Preparation,  Privacy, Professionalism, Respect, and Responsibility

For a couple hours on Monday evenings, a small room in the basement of the gym at the Women’s Correctional Facility becomes a classroom. Students gather there with textbooks, notebooks, and pens–and a nervous anticipation of expectation. It has been, after all, a long journey from the former classrooms of their hometowns and varied lives. It isn’t my place to know or judge that journey, but I do know what lies ahead on the journey forward, this gathering of students and teacher dedicated to learning.Like students and teachers before us, it will be through the exchange of ideas and thoughtful reflection of our subject matter that these students will be transformed, little by little, through ideas and worlds that are different than their own. They will experience the transformation that occurs whenever critical thinking is fostered and reasoning is strengthened by study. I already see it at work, with their detailed focus on assigned readings, their attention to lecture, and active engagement in discussion. These students are examining the world outside of them through the beliefs and practices of great religions of the world. Certainly they are motivated to learn and to demonstrate to others, but especially themselves, that they can succeed. We all should celebrate the chance to promote success in the lives of women like these who have known too much defeat in life. Perhaps an equally important outcome of those Monday evenings, inside the small room in the gym basement, is the way in which “offenders,” “inmates,” or “prisoners” — whatever we on the outside decide to label them — find instead a label of their own choosing. They are students. They are women. They are our fellow citizens. They are following in the path of women before them who pushed for a seat in the classroom and thus created access to knowledge, vocations, and futures that were otherwise denied to them. It is a privilege to watch these students take a seat in that small room in the gym basement and for a couple of hours each week to enter into a sacred space of learning. For those who are responsible for supporting this journey, never question the profound impact that you are making.

Deborah Carlton Adjunct Instructor of Religion

When my University of Richmond colleague asked me to teach a class for the Virginia Community College System at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women, she prefaced that request with these words: “it’s the best teaching experience you’ll ever have.” She’s right. I’ve taught adult learners for a dozen years at the University of Richmond.   Their enthusiasm and motivation pale in comparison to my newest students, the women who meet me every Tuesday night for a class in Humanities.

Students are well prepared for the night’s discussion; they bring questions, curiosity and insights to whatever topic we have for consideration that evening. Weekly writing assignments are on time and show evidence of having read the material thoughtfully. I am particularly impressed with how well students connect what we are studying with the modern world; these women get it.

The first night of class, I gave a writing assignment. Overwhelmingly, these papers talked about how grateful these students are for the opportunity provided them to learn, to better themselves, to take a college level course that will help them be more successful when they leave this facility. Of 20 papers, there was one misspelled word, zero grammatical errors. That’s impressive, I don’t care where you teach!

There are, of course, challenges to teaching in this environment where students have no access to the Internet, a limited library and, for some, limited time to spend in the library. I’m grateful to the Kates Foundation for supplying a crucial piece of technology for this class: a large TV and DVD player. I can’t take these students on my usual field trips to museums and plays; however, I can bring a bit of the world to them each week with film to supplement our reading and class discussions.

My UR colleague was right: this is an extraordinary experience.

Cathy Herweyer, Humanities Instructor

Teaching at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women is turning out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my teaching career. When approached to teach in the prison, I was unsure of how I was going to approach teaching psychology to the residents, as there are many rules and psychology is often about making personal connections between the material and one’s life. In a field that’s built on the sharing of personal information, this seemed like a difficult task, as personal sharing is not allowed. The ladies, however, have made this process easier for me than expected.

This is one of the most enthusiastic groups of students that I have ever encountered. They thirst for knowledge, and it’s truly amazing the connections they make between the material they are learning in my class and things that they are learning in other programs within the institution.

They often discuss what psychological processes are being used to recondition their behaviors and to teach them more positive coping skills. I am in awe of how smart, funny, and positive so many of my students are, given the situation that they wake up to everyday. They are very hard workers and are extremely dedicated to making good grades. They are also proactive and seek out their own additional information on topics that interest them.

I love to watch them interact with one another. I have worked in the correctional system in some capacity since 2000 and have been exposed to many different types of residents during that time. This is the first time that I have seen such a tightly-knit group of ladies; they’re like family, and that attitude carries over into my classroom. We laugh a lot and things are very light-hearted in a field where things are often very dry and serious. There is much discussion about the various topics presented, so class is lively and never boring. It is a true pleasure to work with these ladies and to get to know them; they have given me so much in return.

April D. Rogers-Crawford, MA Adjunct Professor of Psychology