By Mel Shaw, Manager Community Education Whanganui
Since we started with our full programme in 2018, Community Education Whanganui has worked with over 120 learners from both low and high-security units in the Whanganui Prison.

We began with a programme we called Future Directions, a course offering jobskills, employment law, interview skills and cv development. With funding from various sources we have been able to extend our literacy and numeracy programme to include art and hobby-based classes – the same kind of classes that we offer to our community: self-directed learning support, guitar lessons, sketching and drawing, art classes, creative writing, raranga and te reo for beginners.

Our classes are available in all units, including the remand units and high-security. All learners provide evaluations of their tutors and classes upon completion of programmes so the classes evolved in response to feedback. It has always been our desire to provide learning opportunities that directly benefit inmates – classes that inspire and create flow-on effects such as sharing their new skills with others in the units, or taking their skills home to teach their whānau.

We have had extremely positive feedback from every learner we have engaged and Corrections staff tell us that they have witnessed learners teaching each other, working together in harmony regardless of any affiliations they may have on the outside, forming meaningful and positive relationships, making things in classes and sending them to whānau, and engaging with their tutors and Corrections staff in respectful and positive ways.

We have enjoyed many successes along the way. Kate Smith’s creative writing group has recently self-published their work, with one learner submitting a short story in a writing competition. Margaret Beauchamp has lifted her learners at least two steps on the national literacy/numeracy progressions tool. We have pathwayed learners to further education at Te Wānanga, and ensured all Future Directions graduates have an editable cv, cover letter and pre-employment skills with which to engage in employment upon release.

Our raranga group provides learners with a link to Māori heritage and taonga, with the tutor, local weaver Juanita Davis, embedding te reo and tikanga into her classes. This significant and meaningful learning evolved into the tutor teaching the men to make their own korowai. We had a very moving ceremony and graduation for this group. Each man stood proudly in front of the Whanganui Mayor, Hamish McDouall, the prison director Reti Pearse, the photographer and press and other community members, and spoke about their whakapapa and each individual’s story woven into their work. These men are still weaving together, independently of their tutor, who is now sharing her knowledge and facilitating other raranga groups within the prison.

It is our hope we can continue to run these classes for our learners at the prison. We are currently developing a new programme based around effective communication, providing tools for our men to express themselves appropriately, ask questions, listen well and be present and informed.

Delivering meaningful and positive learning experiences, and in turn establishing positive relationships and pro-social supports (alongside the support Corrections and their contracted providers offer) assists greatly with the re-integrative process once our learners are released.

As many of our learners will be released here, it is our hope they have been sufficiently engaged and inspired to continue their learning journeys with us, or we can pathway them into further education or employment with support.