Profile: Iowa prison educator finds value in investing in improvement

High school equivalency instructor Andy Hayward helps offenders learn

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Andy Hayward will tell you that if each student is interested in some aspect of a lesson he’s teaching, it can go a long way toward engaging the entire class.

The 39-year-old Cedar Rapids resident learned that while studying for his teacher’s degree and while teaching high school students for nine years. But now, that lesson has been reinforced in his current classroom.

For two years, Hayward has been a high school equivalency instructor at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, teaching offenders who are looking to take the HiSET exam — or the High School Equivalency Test — to earn their high school diploma.

The program is offered at the penitentiary through a contract with Kirkwood Community College. Six instructors teach reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

Hayward, who teaches high school-level math, said there are currently 70 people enrolled in the school, and an additional 182 on a waiting list to get into the program.

“Yes, they made a mistake somewhere down the line — sometimes an awful mistake,” he said. “But a lot of these guys are just really committed to achieving their goals and amending the mistakes they made and getting their lives back on track.”

According to a study by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research institution, educating offenders while behind bars is the key to keep them from reoffending. In 2013, RAND released a 30-year study of prison education that found that every dollar spent on prison education equated to $4 to $5 in savings on imprisonment costs in the future.

Hayward said it’s the goal of the Anamosa education program — and of the Iowa Prison Industries — to offer resources that ensure the transition out of prison is as successful as possible.

Hayward, a native of Ithaca, N.Y., graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca with a degree in English, and moved to Iowa in 2002 as an AmeriCorps volunteer for the Institute for Social and Economic Development in Coralville. There, he had his first teaching experience, helping African refugees learn English.

Hayward went on to enroll in Mount Mercy University and graduated with degree in secondary education in 2006.

He taught English at Xavier High School for nearly a decade, but in 2015, Hayward said he was “ready for something different” and accepted the job at the Anamosa State Penitentiary.

Before taking on the role, Hayward said he had no previous correctional experience.

“I really had no idea what to expect,” he said.

But the experience has been a positive one — albeit different from teaching teenagers in high school. His students are on different levels in the curriculum from one another, and his classroom tends to take on more of a one-on-one setting than a group lecture.

Hayward said he finds there’s often a kinship created in his classroom when one of his students is giving his best to overcome challenges.

“When a guy passes that test and you know he’s worked hard and he knows he’s worked hard, there’s nothing like it,” Hayward said.

Nowadays, the challenges facing programs like this are cuts to funding and the need for staff.

“I really hope people are aware of the work (done) not just in school, but in Iowa Prison Industries and by the officers,” Hayward said. “I really hope they’ll continue to fund that and really see that this is an investment in keeping our communities safe and to keeping people out of the prisons.”

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