Category Archives: Partners

Making the difference to wildlife and inmates on the England and Wales Prison and Probation Service Estate

By Dr Phil Thomas PhD. FRSA. FIIEG. MCIEEM, Ecology Lead for the UK Ministry of Justice Estates Cluster

Prisoners survey for bats at HMP Dartmoor. Photo ©Phil Thomas

I often ask myself the question: will the habitats and amazing native species still be here, and will they be here when my children’s children are grown up? Will they be reflecting on what could have been?

Where does the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) fit into nature and wildlife, and how does it reflect in its aim of serving the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts? Our duty is to look after inmates with humanity, to help them lead law-abiding and useful lives whilst in custody and following release. I’m glad to say that MoJ and HMPPS take these responsibilities seriously.

HMPPS estate is one of the largest within the MoJ portfolio, and the MoJ Estates Cluster is one of the largest built and non-built rural estates in UK Government. Thus, we face quite a challenge in protecting the property’s native flora and fauna. MoJ and HMPPs takes this responsibility seriously as well, so much so it implemented one of the first UK Government Department Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs). This goes some way to supporting the UK’s commitment to halting species’ decline, as well as fulfilling MoJ’s and HMPPS obligations to a sustainable and compliant Government estate.

Prisoners on a biodiversity course within the woodland management module. Photo © Phil Thomas.

A wealth and diversity of wildlife lives and thrives around individual prison sites; with over 147 prisons across the HMPPS estate in England and Wales, the diversity of wildlife is quintessentially very rich. There are nine prison sites which are nationally important Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), including two European designated sites and two sites which are internationally designated for their wetlands and wading birds. With another 39+ sites of county and local biodiversity significance, the MoJ and its MoJ Ecology network are significantly challenged.

Social and Community Impacts

The MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS recognises that the actions and targets it has set for biodiversity can only be achieved through active support from corrections’ staff, and prisoners and local partners. By encouraging staff and prisoner involvement in all aspects of biodiversity within its estate, and through local community projects, HMPPS and the MoJ Ecology network can broaden its sustainable operations’ and social impacts agenda.

Prison staff on a biodiversity course within the woodland management module. Photo ©Phil Thomas

HMPPS and the MoJ Ecology network believe it’s important that all members of staff and prisoners should have access to green space and the natural world, for enjoyment, education and wellbeing. Nature’s biological diversity remains a source of constant enjoyment in people’s lives. Both the MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS aims to build upon its past successes in this field, to help form and bond closer links with prisoners and those that work in the local community promoting and protecting wildlife. Forming new partnerships and locally driven initiatives will aid in delivering BAPs, protecting important and declining wildlife, and in addressing other important social, health and wellbeing issues for inmates and staff.

The author and Gill Perkins, CEO for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, sign a Memorandum of Understanding for bumblebee conservation at the prison estate. Photo ©Phil Thomas

The MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS consider that active management of its designated and wildlife significant sites and natural green spaces can improve the wellbeing of individuals, encourage Restorative Justice, and address offending behaviour programmes for prisoners. As the MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS works alongside such partners as Natural England, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, County Wildlife Trusts and other nationally recognised wildlife groups and various academics, it demonstrates how wildlife and life’s rich tapestry can have widespread benefits. This includes communities beyond the prison environments—prisoners can do meaningful work that benefits local communities, and obtain transferable learning and skills that will help them secure stable employment on release.

This is one of the two hundred barn owl boxes erected on the prison estate. Photo ©Phil Thomas

Broadening the opportunities for nature conservation and wildlife protection by developing activities that are enjoyable and inclusive for both staff and inmates enables them to explore and improve the sustainability of their everyday life choices and how they impact wildlife and the outside community.  These opportunities are a key tool, in delivering such events and activities as our national BioBlitzes, our national Biodiversity Day and the annual HMPPS Wildlife Award.

The MoJ Ecology network and HMPPS considers that involving inmates in the protection of wildlife, events such as the HMPPS Wildlife Award, and managing priority habitats can give them a sense of accomplishment, a sense of achievement and more importantly, a sense of pride in themselves. Together these feelings and emotions can help prisoners not only get in touch with themselves, but help them become positive and active members of society and their local communities once more.

To learn more about these programs:
Prisoners build over 10,000 nest boxes for rare hazel dormice, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, 2016
Ministry of Justice and its Biodiverse Estate, National Biodiversity Network, 2014
Birdwatching takes flight in Britain’s prisons, BBC News, 2011
Jailbirds creating eco-havens in prison, The Observer, 2008
To sign up for our quarterly Ecology e-news, all you have to do is email: PLEASE SIGN ME UP. to Beatrice.finch@justice.gsi.gov.uk

Butterfly conservation takes flight in Oregon prison

Text by Ronda Naseth, Oregon Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program Coordinator, Oregon Zoo
Photos by Tom Kaye, Institute for Applied Ecology, and Chad Naugle, Oregon Department of Corrections

The technicians pose with their larvae, growing in cups under energy-efficient LED bulbs. From left to right: Marisol, Carolyn, Mary, Sarah.

Sarah shows how larvae have begun webbing in preparation for diapause.

The excitement generated by the new Butterfly Conservation Lab at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility is both palpable and contagious to anyone who visits. The buzz began this spring. Oregon Zoo staff began training program technicians to receive egg clusters and to raise larvae. At the same time, staff and inmates – skilled in trades from plumbing to quilting – worked to transform an empty room into a fully functioning, bright, and beautiful lab. The work being done here is groundbreaking: it expands recovery efforts for the endangered Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly from Washington to Oregon, and brings butterfly conservation work into a medium facility housing unit for the first time.

The technicians’ dedication to the work is reflected in successes so far this season. Their attentiveness allowed them to capture video of the first larvae hatching from their eggs. They enthusiastically welcomed 150 “ninjas” that were overlooked as egg clusters but suddenly appeared as larvae on our host plants. Recently, they accepted the responsibility for care of a single Oregon Zoo butterfly which elected to skip diapause (a period of dormancy, somewhat similar to hibernation), and head straight into pupation and adulthood several months ahead of schedule.

Ultimately, the technicians’ care has resulted in a 95% survival rate, measuring from the time the larvae were first big enough to count to entering diapause. Our program goals include having 500 larvae survive diapause in order to be released to the field next spring; with 935 healthy larvae currently ready to head into the overwintering stage, we are optimistic we will meet this goal!

Marisol shows a lab visitor how larvae climb to the lids of their cups to bask in the light.

Staff and technicians alike are deservedly proud of their work and of the lab itself. They actively seek opportunities to share their space and their new knowledge. They host tours, speak about the program at Toastmasters gatherings, and participate in special activities such as CCCF’s annual Through A Child’s Eyes event and a recent science lecture and media visit. Technicians share larval development with other women on their unit by displaying photos and information on the lab windows. In the technicians’ words:

“When I go to our butterfly lab, I feel a sense of peace in a world of chaos. I have a rare opportunity to sustain the life of an endangered species, which gives me a unique reward of being able to give peace back into the world.”

Sarah

“This program gives me an opportunity to give back to the Earth and not take things for granted.”

Marisol

“The Butterfly Program has been very beneficial to me as I know I’m doing something good for the environment. I also love the opportunity to work with a wonderful team!

Mary

“To be involved in this program means I am given the opportunity to be involved in my community here at Coffee Creek as well as an extension to the outside community through our partnership with the Oregon Zoo, ultimately helping to change Oregon’s environment one butterfly at a time.”

Carolyn

The butterfly crew stands under a quilt created for the lab by Oregon Corrections Enterprises quilters. From left to right: Marisol, Ronda, Mary, Sarah, Carolyn.

SPP, Allies, and Friends: Thank you and goodbye!

Text by Liliana Caughman, outgoing SPP Workshop Coordinator
Photos by Mark Sherwood and Kelly Peterson at SCCC

Liliana poses with Workshop students on her last day at SCCC. These two were particularly energetic and engaged, always participating in everything: they asked great questions, brought insight to environmental discussions, and were willing to hold snakes when needed!

 

It is strange how the past two years have flown by and it’s hard to believe that my time visiting prison has come to an end. It is stranger yet that many of the people I interacted with in prison will remain there for years to come. I can only hope that my small efforts made an active difference in the lives of the students, those who I saw month after month in SPP’s Environmental Workshop Series.

 

Mark Sherwood was a lively and dependable partner at SCCC. He bridged the gap between SPP and the incarcerated students and made sure the workshops were successful for everyone.

 

To me, the story of working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) is one of cooperation, patience, and unlikely friendships.

I was troubled by prison in many ways and became more cognizant of institutional discrimination. At the same time, I also encountered such beauty. I have seen in-prison gardens expand to cover acres and beehives spread across the state. I have seen a room of 80 grown men geek-out over octopuses and vultures and climate science. I have seen hardened corrections officers shift to a focus on rehabilitation and education and understanding. I have seen how—given sufficient opportunity—hope, happiness, progress, and creativity can flourish in any environment.

 

SPP’s work at SCCC could not happen without the ongoing support of Chris Idso. Here he says goodbye to Liliana. Chris is already so excited to get to know Erin and create more positive changes, like hosting workshops in the visiting room!

 

These valuable experiences will never leave me. As I continue my academic path, I will not forget about those behind bars or other vulnerable populations who are suffering. However, I will also remember the good people working in these institutions who are partners, fighting for change in the ways they know how. With all parties being valued, challenged, and heard, I know great things can happen.

Now the time has come for me to say goodbye and thank you to SPP and everyone with whom I partnered. I am proud to have been a part of this unique endeavor and look forward to watching it continue to grow.

I am also thrilled to pass on my position as Workshop Series Coordinator to Erin Lynam. With a focus on policy and passion for changing our system of incarceration, I know she will breathe new life into the program and continue its evolution.

Cheers!

Celebrating another flight season for butterfly technicians

Text and photos by Keegan Curry, SPP Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly Program Coordinator

(Left to right) Jessica Stevens, Nicole Alexander, Cynthia Fetterly, and Alexis Coleman pose in front of their original artwork. Ms. Stevens and Ms. Christopher painted this banner to welcome Girl Scouts Beyond Bars to the butterfly lab for a day of activities, including a unique Taylor’s checkerspot merit badge designed by Ms. Alexander.

Inmates at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) continue to amaze us. Each year, a group of dedicated technicians raise and release thousands of federally-endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies. Not only do these technicians follow rigorous laboratory protocols, they develop their own personal expertise and remain adaptive to the myriad challenges of animal husbandry.

This year we were lucky to have three returning technicians on the team. Jessica Stevens, Cynthia Fetterly, and Susan Christopher have completed multiple seasons in the butterfly lab and they have an in-depth understanding of each life stage. Their experience has taught them how to read these animals down to the finest details, like determining the “instar” of a growing caterpillar or predicting how the weather might influence adult mating behavior. Returning technicians play a crucial role, and it is equally important to recruit new participants. This winter we welcomed Nicole Alexander and Alexis Coleman to the butterfly crew and they began their crash course in Taylor’s checkerspot rearing. By the end of the flight season, Ms. Alexander and Ms. Coleman were well-versed in everything from pupation to egg collection!

Thanks to all of the staff from WA Department of Corrections and MCCCW who work tirelessly to coordinate this program. And of course, we wouldn’t be here without support from the Oregon Zoo and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. It means a lot to have zookeepers and biologists coming to MCCCW and giving incarcerated technicians the confidence to work with this fragile and beautiful species.

Take a look at these photo highlights from the past few months.

Taylor’s checkerspot caterpillars in their newly-formed cocoons. They remain in this state for up to three weeks and then emerge as butterflies (also known as “eclosion”).

(Left to right) Cynthia Fetterly, Susan Christopher, and Jessica Stevens inspect a pupa to see if it is ready to eclose.

After wiggling free of their cocoons, two adult butterflies dry their wings. It can take several hours after eclosion before they are ready to fly.

Cynthia Fetterly searches for butterfly eggs. She has to check every inch of the plant and down in the rocks at its base. It’s a tedious but crucial task.

This female just laid a fresh cluster of eggs (the tiny yellow orbs on the leaf to her left).

(Left to right) Susan Christopher teaches new technicians Alexis Coleman and Nicole Alexander how to safely handle adult checkerspots. Technicians inspect the size and shape of the abdomen to determine whether butterflies are male or female.

All adult checkerspots must be weighed and measured. Notice how this technician grasps the butterfly with the sides of her fingers, avoiding harm to its wings.

Jessica Stevens keeps a watchful eye over adult breeding tents.

Mottled sunlight and a warm breeze are a checkerspot’s ideal conditions.

The adult life stage is a critical period in the captive rearing program. Technicians conduct dozens of breeding introductions each day, keeping track of each individual’s “matriline” in order to maintain genetic diversity.

Breeding Taylor’s checkerspot takes patience. After hours of waiting and adjusting environmental conditions, these two finally decided to mate.

Susan Christopher leads a tour of the butterfly lab for a documentary crew from PBS Nature. Photo by Kelli Bush.

PBS Nature gathers footage of Susan Christopher and Nicole Alexander double-checking their breeding data. Photo by Kelli Bush.

It’s hard to deny the charm of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. We extend our gratitude to the technicians at MCCCW who continue to prove that incarcerated people can make a difference in conserving biodiversity.

 

 

 

Cedar Creek Turtle Release 2017

By Turtle Technician, William Anglemyer
Photos by Sadie Gilliom

On the morning of April 17th, ten turtles from the SPP Cedar Creek Turtle Program were released onto a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife site in Lakewood, WA. The turtles had been receiving care at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center since November of 2016.

The turtle habitat

It was great to see them swim off into the ponds. Some of them had very extensive wounds when they were first arrived CCCC. As the technicians that care for the turtles after their treatment at PAWS, we were relieved to see them finally out of captivity. When they are in our care, they are provided the best treatment possible. Warm water to heal in, high protein food to eat, a clean tank habitat-all are provided at our rehabilitation facility. However, these are wild creatures and, as such, they belong in the wild-not in a tank.

Getting ready to release!

Immediately after being placed in the shallows, and even though western pond turtles are not the most expressive species, we interpreted their lack of hesitation swimming into the pond as revealing a kind of excitement for being back into the wilds. They were taken from the plastic shoebox containers used to transport them and placed them in the shallow water on the bank. We each grabbed a turtle and released them at the same time. We repeated this until all 10 turtles were released. As they left our hands, they swam as fast as they could until they disappeared into the murkiness of the pond.

Turtle Technicians, Mr. Anglemyer and Mr. Eldridge, releasing the turtles.

Sadly, we realize that this may not be the last time these turtles experience release from captivity back into the wild; some may have to return to captivity for re-treatment. The shell disease that is plaguing these turtles is still being researched and much is yet unknown. Biologists and veterinarians are working hard to figure out what causes the disease and how to cure it effectively.

Prairie technicians visit the prairie

Text by Jeanne Dodds, SPP Prairie Conservation Nursery Coordinator for Washington Corrections Center for Women
Photos by Ricky Osborne

In May, Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) created a first-time educational experience for the prairie conservation nursery team at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). While Washington State Department of Corrections (WA Corrections) staff have had other chances to visit prairie sites, it was the first time that inmate technicians were able see for themselves the rare landscape they help restore. The WCCW team toured two partner sites, the Center for Natural Lands Management’s Violet Prairie Seed Farm, and restored prairie at Wolf Haven International. Each of these sites receives plants produced at WCCW.

At Violet Prairie Seed Farm, Prairie Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan found out that mature Balsamorhiza deltoidea flowers smell like chocolate! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

We toured the Wolf Haven restoration site with plant conservation specialists. We observed recovering populations of golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta), one of the endangered plants cultivated by the technicians at WCCW, and a species critical to Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly recovery. At Violet Prairie Seed Farm, the farm manager and work crew members presented some of the techniques and skills necessary to produce native seed on a large scale.

These site visits provided context and information to enhance the work of the technicians in the Conservation Nursery, and also adds education, training, and connections for their futures.

Conservation Nursery Technician Ashley McElhenie, Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott, and Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan discuss growing Lomatium triternatum. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technician Ashley McElhenie uses a hand lens to examine a Lomatium species at Violet Prairie Seed Farm. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott with rows of Balsamorhiza deltoidea, one of the primary plant species grown at WCCW. Photo by Carl Elliott.

Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan and Conservation Nursery Coordinator/Graduate Research Assistant Jeanne Dodds in the fields of Plectritis congesta at Violet Prairie Seed Farm. The site visits were the technicians’ first opportunity to see the species they grow as mature plants. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Now at Wolf Haven International, Conservation Nursery Technician Ambrosia Riche looks closely at Armeira maritima in full bloom in the wild. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

A native sweat bee on Armeria species; as a part of the Conservation Nursery educational program, technicians learn about the importance of native pollinators in prairie ecosystems. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Another species grown extensively at WCCW, Castilleja hispida blooms vibrantly in the prairies at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Wolf Haven International Conservation Specialist Anne Schuster, Conservation Nursery Technicians Ashley McElhenie, Ambrosia Riche, Samantha Morgan, and Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott discuss Mima mound prairie topography. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technician Samantha Morgan, Conservation Nursery Coordinator/Graduate Research Assistant Jeanne Dodds, and Wolf Haven International Conservation Specialist Anne Schuster identify native prairie plants. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Corrections Officer Kyra Cammarata and Conservation Nursery Technicians Ambrosia Riche and Ashley McElhenie sample edible Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata). Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Thanks in part to SPP’s conservation programs, Castilleja levisecta has returned to the prairies at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technicians Samantha Morgan, Ambrosia Riche, and Ashley McElhenie identify prairie plant species with Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

A visit from a beautiful wolf, named Myta Jr., during our tour of Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The path to the Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International with Conservation Nursery Manager Carl Elliott in the background. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Conservation Nursery Technicians Samantha Morgan, Ambrosia Riche, and Ashley McElhenie and WCCW Conservation Nursery Liaison Scott Skaggs with the massive branches of the Grandfather Tree at Wolf Haven International. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Building the pool of environmental instructors for the women’s prisons

Text by Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager
Photos by Ricky Osborne

On April 28th, Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes trained and certified 22 women at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) as Roots of Success Instructors. The training was a great success, and we are pleased to have reinforced the pool of women who can teach the curriculum—that’s the only way to meet the demand! We hear from both WA Corrections staff and Roots of Success graduates that this program is highly regarded: it creates respectful relationships within the prison community, and it’s an effective tool for building skills for life and work. Those testimonials line up with results from program surveys that show increased knowledge and skills in multiple ways.

Congratulations to the instructors and a special thanks to Raquel and Chad Flores from Roots of Success, Vicki York and Paula Andrew from WCCW, Dagoberto Cabrera from MCCCW, and all DOC staff who helped make this training possible! We can’t wait to see what the newly certified instructors accomplish! Please enjoy our  photo gallery of the training.

Roots instructors are asked to think about difficult questions and find solutions together. They received guidance on how to instruct when the content is difficult and complex issues, and how to encourage full engagement and critical thinking from every student and themselves. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The instructor candidates were encouraged to ask lots of questions. Dr. Pinderhughes found this group to be impressively engaged and thoughtful. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

One instructor candidate shares her thoughts and experiences as Raquel Pinderhughes listens. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

The instructor candidates were selected by WCCW and MCCCW staff members. They were picked because of their dedication to environmental issues and their desire to learn and do more. Congrats to the new instructors for their hard work and dedication! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Vicki York, a WCCW staff superstar, originally attended the class just to observe. However, she found herself so engaged that she herself earned a instructor certificate too! Go Vicki! Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Raquel Pinderhughes came from San Francisco to train the new WCCW and MCCCW instructors. Her tireless effort and enthusiasm is an inspiration. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

We are so lucky to have an engaged and thoughtful group of new Roots instructors. Both Roots of Success and SPP can’t wait to hear about the ideas and discussions that come from the classes these women will teach. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clallam Bay Corrections Center – First Beekeeping Graduates!

Text and photos by Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Program Coordinator

With the help of Mark Urnes from North Olympic Peninsula Beekeepers Association, Clallam Bay Corrections Center has graduated 12 new beekeepers!

Mark Urnes taught a two-day intensive class to 12 incarcerated individuals. I had the pleasure of sitting in on Mark’s class in March and impressive is an understatement! Students took a series of 10 tests over two days to become certified as Apprentice Level Beekeepers. However, to prepare for the two-day intensive class, the students studied hard for months with the support of Corrections Officer Faye Nicholas. They brought excellent questions to the class and every student passed the required tests. CBCC is expecting to have bees for them to take care of by late April!

A student asking Mark Urnes a beekeeping question.

Special thanks to Mark Urnes for his generosity and for sharing his time and knowledge. Also to Faye Nicholas for making beekeeping at Clallam Bay possible. Thank you both for everything you do!

Lastly, CONGRATULATIONS to the first CBCC Beekeeping Class!

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part Three

Part Three: Session at the Women’s Prison

If you haven’t already read Part One, you can do so here, and Part Two is here.
Photos and text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

The WCCW visit room and sometimes-classroom is captured in the mirror at the front.

In January, we presented lecture survey results to students at the men’s prison, and gathered their feedback and ideas (that story here). We needed to repeat the process at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), but had to wait until there was an opening in the lecture series schedule. That time came in March.

As a part of the presentation, Liliana also gave an overview of SPP programs statewide and at WCCW.

The program classroom at WCCW can have a very different feel than the one at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Lectures are held in the visit room. The layout is not ideal, and the buzz of vending machines can be a distraction. That day, we learned from the students that program demand is met just fine by the seats and sessions available—they aren’t clamoring for more, like we hear from the male students. While Stafford Creek has nearly 2,000 residents, WCCW has less than 800, and WCCW residents can choose from a relative abundance of programming. These factors likely contribute to a somewhat more casual classroom atmosphere than at the men’s prison.

Again, Liliana Caughman presented her report from the lecture series surveys, and again the students nodded with agreement at the results. However, this group was more quick to talk about a negative result: the small number of students (5%) who respond negatively to the lectures. A student self-identified as one of these, and I was glad to hear more from her when we broke into small groups: her critique was more acute than others’, but the particulars were similar to widely-expressed comments.

More engaging!

In my small group, we passed a talking piece to make sure everyone had chances to talk, and I think it made for a high quality discussion. A few students shielded themselves from potential germs by only handling the talking piece with the help of a napkin.

Liliana, Elijah Moloney, and I each sat with a third of the group to further discuss the program and program surveys. From nearly everyone in my group, I heard that they want more interactive and varied sessions. Several students said they struggle to sit still and pay attention through a 90 minute presentation. I heard that a short presentation is fine, and especially if it includes a way to take notes (we would need to provide the paper and pencils), humor, specimens, live animals, or video. They asked us to make time for writing, worksheets, quizzes on the content, games, and individual or small group exercises. Overall, they want content that’s more “sticky.” All this lead to the most potent suggestion: they aren’t very interested in lectures, so why not call the program something else?

Good point! I recall Sarah Weber’s research 2012 study that “… the lecture-style presentations appeared more effective for for male students, whereas workshop-style presentations appeared more effective for female students in improving inmate knowledge and attitudes on environmental topics.”  More recent results from the men’s prison, including what we heard during the January session, point to a wide-spread preference for interactive, more engaging sessions. Lectures may be more effective at conveying information, at least for some groups, but workshops have a wide-spread, strongly positive effect on environmental attitudes.

Topics & Surveys

The students asked for sessions on sociology, psychology, communications, physiology, mental plasticity, and evolution. These are some of my favorite topics too.

Like the male students, they asked for more knowledge questions. A few suggested more variety in the questions about attitude, so that respondents are less likely to answer automatically.

What next?

I find it super satisfying to have extensive qualitative and quantitative results on the program; it makes it easy to decide what next! Here is what we will do:

  • Rename the program. Science and Sustainability Lecture Series has served us well for years, but it’s time for an upgrade. Program partners have agreed on Environmental Engagement Workshop Series.

  • Update guidelines for guest presenters, with pointers on how to create inspiring, challenging, “sticky,” content.
  • Recruit guests with expertise on social, political, physiological, and evolutionary aspects of the environmental field.
  • Increase the number of knowledge questions on the surveys.
  • Use a larger set of attitude questions, varying which are included each time; some questions will ask about identity and plans for action.

We have already started work on each of these actions. Liliana has started using the new name with guest presenters, and was pleased to see that the word “workshop” had the desired effect on their planning and facilitation.

I still recognize that seven years’ data from the Science and Sustainability Lecture Series showed us that the program has been enormously successful and well received. Now we are ready to make it even better!

What do the students get from SPP lectures? Part Two

Part Two: Session at the Men’s Prison

If you haven’t already read Part One, you can do so here.
Phot0s and text by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

Lecture Series students at Stafford Creek Corrections Center were attentive to Liliana Caughman‘s report of survey results. They showed signs of agreeing with all that she shared from program evaluation. They know first hand that they have gained knowledge from the series, that their environmental attitudes have become more positive, and that they prefer interactive, relevant content, just as the results said.

More exciting and illuminating was the quantity and quality of ideas they offered for improving the series and evaluation surveys. Elijah Moloney, Lecture Series Intern, Liliana, and I each circled up with a third of the students present, and gathered many salient observations and recommendations.

Huge demand

Lecture Series intern Elijah Moloney shares his views on climate change and environmental justice.

We learned that the demand at Stafford Creek to attend the series far exceeds classroom capacity–the sign up is filled almost as soon as it is posted, and many students are disappointed when they are not able to claim a seat. They said we could easily fill a classroom twice the size, and that they would be willing to undergo a pat-down search for lectures held in the much-larger visiting room. Some pointed to the value of inviting/including new folks who could represent new and diverse points of view.

Students also recognized that they prefer more interactive sessions, and want each person to have a chance to give input and ask questions. That points to increasing the number of lectures, perhaps repeating content for morning and afternoon sessions.

Topics

The students at Stafford Creek express interest in a huge variety of sustainability and environmental topics. New topic requests I heard were economic and political aspects of climate change—I agree that there is much to learn and consider in that arena! A few students spoke of their frustrations of not having their requests filled, or that they have missed the presentation when their request was met. Again, this points to the desire to increase program access and scope.

One student shared in writing that he was offended by how we described extending the environmental movement to represent all races and cultures. I am still struggling to figure out how to promote increasing environmental equity without suggesting that I am rejecting people who already identify as environmentalists or students of sustainability.

Surveys

To our surprise, the students generally supported ongoing surveys; they were not experiencing survey “burn out” as we had feared. However, they had concrete suggestions for how to revise them:

  • more true and false questions, including some more difficult queries
  • since nearly all attending the lecture series have highly positive attitudes about the environment, shift to measuring each lecture’s impact on empowering action
  • provide work sheets to fill in during and/or after the session

What an awesome group of students!

In our next post we will share what we heard from the sister program at Washington Corrections Center for Women, and divulge the program revisions we have planned in response to the students’ written and spoken input.