New Programs and New Partners – Q3, June 2017
2017’s first quarter saw SPEAK focusing on refining existing programs and building partnerships that are sure to open new doors moving forward. For the first time ever, our volunteers ran three weekly, 8-week programs, along with a number of one-day trainings and external programs in partnership with other community and international organizations. We addressed new challenges in our existing programs and grew our organizational capacity in important ways that will ensure we can proceed focusing on clear programmatic and financial goals. The year is off to a great start, and we can’t wait to see what’s next!
Where We’ve Been
New Challenges at Chittenden Regional: Our flagship program continued on schedule this quarter, as we saw new instructors take on leadership roles. Laura Savall of VLS and UVM’s Izzy Olson helped to lead an 8-week cycle that culminated in an excellent debate featuring almost entirely new debaters. This quarter, we began to integrate new strategies for challenging students who have been involved in the program for longer periods of time to keep them engaged and involved. We also reexamined some of our teaching strategies to be more inclusive of both older and newer students, as well as to raise the bar for what we expect from our participants. While high turnover in the prison often means high turnover in our class composition, we have a core group of students that demand a new level of instruction. This new challenge speaks to SPEAK’s significant achievement of having operated continuously for three years at CRCF, and offers us a chance to continue building upon these past successes.
Return to Woodside: Each of our instructors glow when speaking about our work at Woodside. The support that we receive from faculty and staff, along with the enthusiasm of our students, makes this facility worth coming back to each year. This spring we ran our second program at the Woodside Juvenile Correctional Facility, culminating in a debate about whether individuals should have the right to own wild animals. The program was once again led by Jessica Bullock, but a number of new instructors got their feet wet working with the juveniles. We’re very excited about the number of younger instructors that have shown promise and ability through their participation in the Woodside program, and subsequently at CRCF. This surely bodes well for our organizational capacity to continue leading multiple concurrent programs for the next several years.
New Partnerships in Hartford: This spring we ran a pilot program at the Hartford Community Restorative Justice Center. The effort was spearheaded by Will Lowrey and Victoria Scozzaro, both from VLS. The program culminated in a debate about legalizing marijuana, and it was clear that the participants had spent significant time and energy preparing to give their speeches. One speaker, who suffers from a TBI, held his speech in one hand and read it with his arm trembling from nerves, but to see him standing there considering all he has been through was invaluable. He reflected that that the program helped him in his AA meetings and parole hearings. Staff commented that “anything helps” and that, even if the numbers are low, these programs that teach productive skills are incredibly useful for their clients. They expressed a clear willingness to continue partnering with us, and this program offers a clear path for a younger volunteer to take on some leadership.
Vermont High School Mock Trial Program: In partnership with the Snelling Center for Government, the Vermont Bar Association, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford, Civics First, and Vermont Law School, SPEAK helped to organize a pilot Mock Trial competition for Vermont high school students. Students from Rutland High School, Brattleboro Union High School, and the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center participated in a daylong competition comprised of three rounds that were monitored by a representative from Civics First, a Connecticut-based organizations, who guided participants through procedures and answered questions. SPEAK volunteers spent countless hours organizing the competition and creating the partnerships necessary for such an event to occur. We are optimistic that this will be only the first of this type of event for Vermont high school students, and that this competition helped to create some momentum for Mock Trial in Vermont high schools moving forward.
“Be You; Express Yourself!” – Working with Divas: In partnership with the Discussing Intimate Violence and Accessing Support (DIVAS) program through the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, SPEAK conducted a one-day session in Morrisville that focused on basic public speaking skills, specifically geared towards given women the tools to discuss their own life experiences. Executive Director Jessica Bullock ran this program alongside DIVAS co-host Ana Cimino. The curriculum employed our traditional model for structuring a speech, but allowed participants to discuss times in their lives when they felt empowered or successful. Participants spoke about people who are important in their lives and practiced using nonverbal persuasion skills. The DIVAS program provides support, skill building, and advocacy for women incarcerated in Vermont, as well as for women who are reintegrating themselves into their communities. We were thrilled to work with the Morrisville DIVAS program for girls and young women, and we look forward to hosting future sessions.
Continua al’Italia!: SPEAK returned to Italy this year to offer a week-long training from February 27th to March 4th for high school students preparing to participate in Italy’s Debate Olympics. The training was conducted in partnership with WeDebate, and many thanks are owed to world-renowned debate trainer and good friend of SPEAK Bojana Skrt for her support in making this partnership possible. This program utilized our full 8-week curriculum, run on consecutive days for participants at a picturesque lakeside venue at Santa Caterina del Sasso in Leggiuno, Italy. This is the second consecutive year that SPEAK has been able to conduct trainings in collaboration with WeDebate in Italy, and we are thrilled to be able to continue working both domestically and internationally to promote powerful voices for youth.
A Big “Thank You!” to Our Schweitzer Fellows: We’d like to offer thanks to our two Albert Schweitzer Fellows, Laura Savall and Toni Girardi, who have each devoted countless hours to volunteering at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility while starting initiatives to update, organize, and digitize our curriculum and to bring Mock Trial into Vermont High Schools. Each of these projects helps to further our mission in distinct ways; by organizing our curriculum and making it easily available to our instructors online, we facilitate the creation of new programs and partnerships by making our tools accessible and easily understood. SPEAK has been fortunate to have three Schweitzer fellows over the past several years, which has allowed us opportunities to grow and formalize our programming. The High School Mock Trial program could not have happened without the Schweitzer Fellowship’s support, enabling our fellows to directly promoted powerful voices for young people throughout Vermont.
Best of Luck to Our Departing Volunteers: This quarter, we are particularly saddened by the departure of several our of most dedicated volunteers.
Izzy Olson, who was one of SPEAK’s original five volunteers when we ran our first program at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, will be moving to Ethiopia as a Peace Corps volunteer. She has served as both a lead instructor and the UVM Supervisor through SPEAK. We will greatly miss her commitment to our students and keen insights in the classroom, but cannot wait to see what excellent things she will achieve!
Victoria Scozzaro will also embark on her legal career. Tori was one of our original VLS volunteers, and has led programs at CRCF and helped to create the program at the Hartford Community Restorative Justice Center. Tori has always been able to strike lasting connections with our students, and she will surely succeed moving forward because people can tell just how much she cares.
Finally, Will Lowrey, who has played essential roles as a leader at CRCF, the VLS supervisor, and the creator of SPEAK’s newest partnership with the Hartford Community Restorative Justice Center, will be moving on to begin a new career in animal rights law. Will has, without a doubt, been one of our most impactful volunteers, and he will be sorely missed by both his students and fellow instructors. We wish him the best of luck in protecting those who do not have a voice with which to speak up! We thank all three of these volunteers for their incredible dedication to promoting powerful voices in Vermont’s prisons and for the fundamental roles that they have each played in building this organization.
Where We’re Going
Help us Welcome Professor Johannes Wheeldon, Director of Programs and Partnerships: It is with tremendous excitement that we announce Professor Wheeldon’s new formal role with SPEAK. An Adjunct Professor at Norwich College’s School of Justice Studies and Sociology, Professor Wheeldon comes to us after having served as the Executive Director of the Community Justice Network of Vermont, and has authored four books and more than twenty journal articles on restorative justice practices, correctional education, and criminology. Johannes previously established prison debate programs in Washington State, and has served as an informal consultant to SPEAK over the past several years. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his role in our ongoing success, and are delighted that he has agreed to take on a larger role moving forward, working to develop new partnerships, establish organizational practices and policies, and grow our financial base.
Adjustments and Quality Assurance at CRCF: This summer, rather than continuing to run concurrent programs, we are focusing our efforts on quality assurance. When we first began the program at CRCF, which recently turned three years old, we never could have imagined the kind of sustained success that our flagship program as seen. We have been able to work with countless women over those years, some who have stayed with us for only a short period of time and others who have become consistent attendants to our weekly classes. It is the latter that provided us with our most recent challenge: creating curriculum that could meet the need not only of the novice debater but of those whose skills had clearly eclipsed the level at which our curriculum focused. As a result, we have developed an advanced version of our curriculum that focuses more on refining the skills that we teach in our 8-week cycles. The sessions will be more focused on tailoring our instruction to skills our students are interested in learning, and towards reinforcing the skills that we are teaching on more rapidly through more frequent debates, research sessions, and argument building.
Return to the Lund Family Center: This Fall, we will be returning to the Lund Family Center to lead another 8-week cycle for women who are receiving treatment at the lock-in residential facility. Veteran instructor Charlotte Gliserman from UVM will lead the program, having been an assistant instructor the last time that we partnered with Lund. This program presents unique challenges, as it is a distinct setting from those that we are accustomed to working in, and the residents largely consist of mothers with children. Many of the women living at Lund have previously been incarcerated or have had custody issues with keeping their children. It is particularly important to promote their voices here, in a transitional setting that can help lay the groundwork for a stable foundation when they are back out on their own.
Continuing Partnerships in Hartford: While not yet official, there is a significant possibility that our partnership with the Hartford Community Restorative Justice Center will continue into the future. Given its close proximity to Vermont Law School and the demand for programming at HCRJC, this could very well blossom into a sustainable program that provides VLS volunteers a “home base.” While we will always strive to integrate our UVM and VLS volunteers, having a program so close to VLS would allow us to potentially retain more people and get them more invested in the program without having to commute long distances each week. The success of our pilot program and continued interest make HRCJC an ideal partner moving forward.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
As always, thank you for your continued support and dedication to SPEAK’s mission. We are proud to promote powerful voices and we look forward to partnering with you to continue this mission in the upcoming quarter! Please, never hesitate to contact Jessica Bullock (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions about our projects and programs, and feel free to share our website (http://speaksolutions.wixsite.com/speak) and handy “Donate” button with your friends and family!