Jail literacy program seeks tutors
HOW TO HELP
The Walworth County Literacy Council helps inmates at the Walworth County Jail in small-group and one-on-one reading, writing and math tutoring. But more volunteer tutors are needed to reach the growing number of inmates interested in the program.
No teaching experience is necessary, and training is provided.
For more information or to become a tutor, contact Brigette Kutschma at (262) 957-0142 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ELKHORN When an inmate at the Walworth County Jail told Andera Francis that he was ready to change his life for the better, she knew she’d made a difference.
“That really touched me,” she said.
Francis is a tutor with the jail literacy program, which the Walworth County Literacy Council launched in August to give inmates skills to succeed after their release from jail.
“We instill a hope in them that they can do better next time, that they can break out of the cycle,” she said. “This jail down here is a revolving door. And if we give them the education and the skills they need to go out and succeed … then to me, I’ve done my job.”
The program includes six volunteer tutors—three teaching adult basic education, two teaching English as a second language and one teaching math, said Brigette Kutschma, literacy council coordinator.
Classes—some small group sessions and some one-on-one sessions—meet for about 90 minutes twice a week in a classroom at the jail, she said.
“Everything really has gone better than we could have ever expected,” she said.
But more tutors are needed.
Recently, two of the tutors have had to withdraw for personal reasons, Kutschma said. They’ll need to be replaced, and additional tutors will be needed as participation in the program grows.
The program has reached about 50 inmates, and dozens more have expressed interest in taking classes.
“There has been a constant waiting list,” she said.
Prospective tutors don’t need teaching experience, Kutschma said, and all tutors are given training to teach the class of their choosing.
Kutschma said tutors can set their own schedules, dictate their class size, and structure their classes however they wish.
“I can’t say enough about the dedication of these tutors,” she said. “It’s really neat to see what they’ve all done with their classes.”
The majority of inmates are seeking a high school diploma, Kutschma said.
The jail has contracted with Gateway Technical College since 1989 to provide inmates GED/HSED preparation and testing. A number of inmates participate in the program, but many don’t have the basic literacy skills to study, take and pass the tests, she said.
Judy Stone, a former middle school teacher who teaches math classes in the jail, said the inmates are hungry to learn, often asking for more work or more class time.
“They really want to learn,” she said. “What more could a teacher ask for?”
Francis, who teaches adult basic education classes in the jail, said she’s seen incredible progress among inmates in the program, not only in their reading, writing and math skills but in their behavior, too.
“It’s making such a huge difference,” she said. “If they do anything wrong, they’re privilege to come to class is taken away. And for some of these guys, this is really important to them.”
The program often leads inmates to strive for stable employment, healthy relationships with family and friends and a restored sense of dignity after their release from jail.
Stone, who founded the local literacy council in 1987, said tutoring with the jail program is “the most rewarding experience” because she’s making a real impact on people’s lives.
“These are people who need help and want help, and when you give the help … you feel like you’re really making a difference in someone’s life,” she said.