Riverside Adult Education Recognized for its Innovative Day Reporting Program

Riverside Adult Education serves the communities of Regional School Units (RSUs) 26, 22, and 34 in Penobscot County. Like all of Maine’s high-quality adult education programs, Riverside works with adults in their region looking for personal, professional, and academic growth.

Riverside was recognized recently by the Maine Sheriff’s Association and the Penobscot County Jail for their unique PACE Day Reporting Program. PACE stands for Purpose, Awareness, Connection, and Education, and invites a niche audience of participants to go at their own pace, or to simply enjoy a change of pace when it comes to personal and professional betterment.

Intended for individuals in Penobscot County who have been sentenced to two days in jail for a minor offense, the PACE Day Reporting program gives folks the opportunity to spend that time doing something a bit different.

PACE program coordinator Rebecca Cross, who helped get the program up and running, recalls her initial conversations about the creation of PACE with Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton: “He wanted me to create something where the people would leave enriched in some way, instead of sitting in the cellblock for two days.”  Their shared vision helped create PACE – a program that provides the opportunity for participants to get involved in educational programs they never knew how to access.

“The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office is blessed to have a tremendous partnership with Rebecca Cross and Riverside Adult Education,” said Sheriff Morton. “This community-based correctional program focuses on a therapeutic approach to incarceration through an educational experience.” 

People who opt to participate in PACE spend each day of their jail sentence embarking on a tailored educational experience. While some may choose to practice for the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) or take the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS) math and reading assessment for adults, others choose to get help in filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form and learning about possible higher education options available to them. 

Another option of PACE presents a whole other set of professional learning opportunities. These learning options are one of the things about PACE that really sets it apart – by the way it draws participants, who may be feeling turned out by their own community, back into society through investing in them valuable time, knowledge, and training. The program offers classes like, “How to Stretch Your Food Dollar,” and “Trauma Informed Yoga,” as well as, “How to Breathe Your Way Through Mental Health Struggles,” among other topics. 

“It’s a balance between profoundly sobering conversations around addiction and light hearted remembering of the joys of life,” said Cross.

In addition, a new option in the PACE program called, “Life Ready” includes reflective workshops using podcasts. These workshops are linked to mic-credentialing, a system developed by Eastern Maine Community College. The micro-credentialing curriculum through Life Ready encourages students to consider their own story and how it affects their life choices. The podcasts include useful topics like, business startup, home buying, credit scores, budgeting with very little income, and financial literacy, which according to Cross, is a very popular one.

“People who do not have very much, or no money at all, often think that financial literacy doesn’t apply to them,” she explained. By making budgeting and financial literacy accessible and easy to use for anyone, it has become one of the most well utilized options in the program.

PACE classes and workshops are offered on a Friday and a Saturday to make them more convenient and accessible for people who are working or already taking classes during the week. This means that the community organizations who partner with PACE are willing to send instructors to volunteer on a Saturday, which sends a very positive message to participants, says Cross.

“They [PACE program participants] are astounded at the fact that people from the community want to come in and spend time with them, even on the weekend,” said Cross. “The fact that people are willing to do that means a lot.”

Cross also explains that their community partnerships are one of the most impactful aspects of the program. These partnering organizations, such as Health Equity Alliance and the BARN (Bangor Area Recovery Network), send people to conduct the classes or workshops. One recent workshop was hosted by Eastern Maine Development Corporation (EMDC) on “How to Develop an Elevator Speech,” and “How to Interview for a Job.” They have also hosted faculty from University of Maine at Orono who have provided reflective writing workshops. In addition, they have hosted local artists who offer their time teaching classes on how to paint.

“It’s so profound for people,” said Cross. “It can be healing, to just sit down and tap into your creativity and just laugh with people, and at themselves.”

So far, PACE has served 139 people in Penobscot County since its creation in January of 2020. Cross says that although it does cost participants money to enter into PACE, they have worked hard to keep that cost as low as possible, which ends up being a small fraction of what other, similar programs charge in other states. 

Encouraged at the fact that all 139 of the people who have participated in PACE have not been charged with another sentence, they are eager to keep working on making the program accessible to even more people and bring in more community partnerships to match the need.

“Rebecca’s passion for education and wonderful ability to bring in supporting resources makes this program a success” said Sheriff Morton. “This educational approach allows individuals the opportunity to connect with resources available throughout our state.” 

“It’s a great community effort and I just get to put the pieces together,” said Cross, adding that they are always so happy to see people who have participated in the program go on to continue their education, opening up a world of possibilities for what their next step might be.

For more information about PACE, contact Rebecca Cross at rcross@rsu26.org.