Auburn University’s prison arts program featured in comic book-style on NPR Online

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Auburn University’s Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project is receiving national recognition through a comic book-style story on National Public Radio Online and an NPR radio spot that airs Thursday, Dec. 6.

The story appeared online earlier this week, highlighting the Auburn program that provides educational opportunities for people incarcerated in Alabama prisons. Since its inception in 2002, APAEP has offered a wide range of continuing education courses in the arts and sciences and recently expanded to offer Auburn courses for credit towards an Auburn degree.

Kyes Stevens, founder and director of the project, was invited to a conference this spring at Harvard University to help the university envision what higher education in prison could look like for their institution. While there, she met some reporters from NPR. The media members had heard good things about what Stevens was doing to provide higher education in Alabama’s correctional facilities.

Since Jan. 1, 2017, students at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore County have had the opportunity to take Auburn University classes, taught by Auburn University faculty. Stevens said 25 students are currently enrolled and 15 more will begin classes soon.

Through the Second Chance Pell program, Auburn and other colleges and universities across the country are offering postsecondary educational programs to incarcerated individuals by providing them access to financial aid. By increasing access to high-quality educational opportunities, the goal is to help these individuals successfully transition out of prison and back into the classroom or the workforce.

Stevens founded the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project 17 years ago with a focus on arts and humanities, but has expanded over the years to include continuing education courses in human development and family studies as well as STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, in 10 of Alabama’s correctional facilities.

NPR Education Reporter Elissa Nadworny and Visual Journalist LA Johnson spent a day this summer with Stevens and some of the students at Staton, including BJ, Eric and Sug, as depicted in the comic story. The plan was to develop a story for the NPR series, The Changing Face of College.

Stevens said she was expecting the NPR pair to create a story on a number of prison education programs, not just focus on Auburn’s. Nadworny said she didn’t want to emphasize a number of programs in one story as it can distract from the story’s focus.

“I cover education and I think it’s easy for a lot of us to take for granted this idea that everyone wants to learn,” she said. “The Second Chance Pell program makes a compelling story to tell.”

Stevens said she was pleased how the NPR story illustrated points many people don’t seem to grasp, leaving Stevens to justify her work.

“Some people don’t understand that there is a connection between family and education,” she said. “For many of our students, family is what drives them to further their education.”

The NPR Online story can be found here.

A radio story, which includes more from the visit to Staton, can be heard on NPR between 5 and 6 a.m. and 7 and 8 a.m. CT, Thursday.

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