Environmental Education & Training

Education is integral to SPP’s programs; our aim is to provide diverse formal and informal opportunities for education, and to offer new knowledge and new practice to inmates, staff, and all partners. In addition to offering education-specific programming, SPP integrates education into every one of our programs. We try to act on every opportunity to incorporate technical and conceptual education for all SPP participants. Some examples include:

  • Asking inmate technicians and DOC staff what resources would inform and improve SPP programs; providing the books and articles they request
  • Encouraging program participants to pursue their research questions; providing the support needed to conduct that research
  • Creating clear education goals for inmate technicians; wherever possible, formalizing achievement of those goals with certificates (some colleges accept certificates for academic credit)
  • Promoting SPP programs and practices to the prison community with informative signs

To download SPP’s one-page overview of our education programs, click here.

SPP programs dedicated to education as a central focus include our Environmental Engagement Workshop Series, an environmental literacy course called Roots of Success, and those community college programs related to nature and/or sustainability. But first, a note about academic credit.

Academic Credit & Certifications

By law, Washington State taxpayers’ funds may not be spent on four-year, academic college credit. SPP has sought creative ways to overcome this limitation while also maintaining low program costs, in part because low cost programs can be made available to far more students. In recent years, we have improved and standardized SPP-issued certificates. SPP-certificated programs track and recognize academic experience and achievements of ecological conservation technicians and workshop series students; these certificates may be recognized as transfer credit for enrolled students of some four-year colleges. From July 2015 to June 2016, we awarded 149 certificates, 43 of which warrant consideration as transfer credit by Evergreen or other four-year colleges. Students who complete beekeeping apprentice classes and Roots of Success receive certificates generated by partner organizations.

Environmental Workshop Series

Workshop students taste six varieties of honey during a session on honeybees. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

SPP-sponsored workshop series are going strong at Stafford Creek Correction Center (Aberdeen, WA), Washington Corrections Center (Shelton, WA), and the Washington Corrections Center for Women (Gig Harbor, WA), and frequently extend to other WA prisons. At each prison each month, an expert in natural science, sustainability, or the environment shares their expertise. Topics are wide-ranging and engaging: wildlife biology, hydrology, innovations in composting, energy and biofuels, environmental justice, and reconciling science and religion. About 3,000 incarcerated students have been part of SPP’s workshop series since 2009, and most attend more than once.

Workshops are enthusiastically received and we hear many requests for more topics and more events. Share your expertise in science or sustainability by contacting Erica Benoit, SPP’s Workshop Series Coordinator, at 360-867-6765 or benoite@evergreen.edu.

Roots of Success

Graduates of the environmental curriculum pose with their instructors at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

Roots of Success (Roots) is an environmental curriculum that covers vital environmental topics and challenges students to think critically and innovate community-based solutions. Roots students are equipped with job readiness and re-entry skills to prepare for work in the green economy. The 50-hour course is instructed by inmates certified to deliver the curriculum; both instructors and students are dedicated to ensuring the success of peer-led classrooms. From July 2013 – December 2018, 1359 incarcerated adults graduated from the program.

Many Roots students and teachers have shared insights gained in the program. A recent Roots graduate, Austin Mays, wrote about Roots’ effect on his in-prison work as a cook:

…living in a place where you have little outside interaction causes you to be left behind. We, in prison, fail to see the world consuming itself. I recently graduated from Roots of Success and during this course my eyes were opened. Prison is its own city. The overhead is huge, and any way we can work together to create the best living conditions—by using the natural resources around us—is the best way.

SPP-Ohio has incorporated Roots at 23 of their institutions, and had graduated more than 2,000 Roots students. SPP-OR also hosts the program. In the first three years of the program in Washington State DOC, more than 800 students have graduated from the class. In Washington State, Roots of Success is currently available in 9 prisons, and has become a staple of sustainability programming statewide.

Community College Courses

Class photos line the top of the white board in the Horticulture classroom at Cedar Creek Corrections Center. Photo by Joslyn Rose Trivett.

Three Washington State prisons offer vocational horticultural classes, and those students gain access to classroom instruction and hands-on work in those prisons’ extensive gardens. Two prisons provide Green Building courses, where students learn how to build practical and efficient homes and portable structures. These programs rely on partnerships with Washington State community colleges, and instructors and students of these programs are enthusiastic spokespeople for their programs. SPP staff at Evergreen seek out ways to complement and enhance their activities, but the greatest joy comes from celebrating their successes.