Students, faculty, and administrators of Marymount Manhattan College’s continue the Bedford Hills College Program (BHCP) and Taconic College Program (TCP) despite the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus in New York State and the resulting limitations on outside visitors to the correctional facilities.
A week after the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision suspended all visitations to combat the spread of COVID-19, Lisette Bamenga met Taconic’s deputy in the parking lot and received a box filled with papers, folders, and envelopes. Lisette Bamenga is the academic coordinator for the TCP.
What she discovered at home was the box’s contents. Her students had turned in assignments for every class. “I am so proud of our students and awed by their dedication,” she says.
All our students the students are doing well, and all are appreciative of Marymont Manhattan sticking by them. She found many notes from the students expressing gratitude for not giving up on them and continuing the semester.”
Moved, by their dedication, the program continues. Students in the Bedford Hills and Taconic College Programs continue to complete assignments, which are collected and delivered for grading. Both Bamenga and Aileen Baumgartner, Director of the Bedford Hills College Program at the nearby maximum-security facility, say the faculty have been instrumental in keeping students’ routines as normal as possible. This is a testament to what is possible when you have a college that staff that is willing to work with inmates, instead of against them.
Program administrators and faculty were able to provide revised syllabi and work materials to their students before the facilities shut down. They’ve worked out a system for continuously delivering materials back and forth from the students inside the facility to the faculty on the outside. “Now, each Friday, student work is handed to me at the gate and I drop off about 120 packets that include more paper and pens, corrected papers and exams, copies of articles professors want students to read, and new assignments,” says Baumgartner. “And always a letter from me.”
MMC’s prison education programs are among the few that have successfully maintained academic operations in spite of the widespread isolation and social distancing policies necessitated by the outbreak. Many other programs have simply shut down, with negative effects for those incarcerated, explains Drew Leder, Ph.D., MMC’s Ferraro Fellow for Prison Education and Public Philosophy. “It took a lot of work and foresight from many people on the inside and out, but MMC has found a way to keep things going, to keep students learning.”
What they are doing, to keep things going is similar to how correspondence programs have been educating inmates for years.