Retiring teacher in county jail says education offers second chance
ALBION – It may not seem like a dream job for a teacher, but that is how Patricia Morrissey describes her part-time job the past 30 years at the Orleans County Jail.
She worked with young inmates, ages 16 to 21 who hadn’t graduated from high school but wanted to work towards earning a General Equivalency Diploma.
Morrissey helped the students learn the fundamentals in math and reading, and many of the students were motivated to get their GED.
Morrissey is retiring from the job. Today she was recognized at a reception at the Orleans County Public Safety Building.
Morrissey worked with small class sizes, sometimes only two to five students. Sometimes as many as 15.
“It was a very unique situation, working in that kind of setting,” Morrissey said today. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Morrissey worked for the Orleans-Niagara BOCES for the first 13 years before her employer became Albion Central School, which is responsible for offering an education to people up to age 21 if they haven’t graduated.
Morrissey said the younger inmate population has shrunk over the years. She remembers when they were as many as 40 students over the course of a school year. This year she had 15 students for stints of the school year. Some of those inmates may be in the jail for a few weeks.
Morrissey connects with students’ teachers and tries to keep the students on track for earning school credits. Other students focus on earning a GED, which is now the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, a more rigorous test than the GED, Morrissey said.
Many of the students have done well in the smaller class setting, with a focus on mastering the basics in math before moving on to algebra and even trigonometry.
“You’re their cheerleader,” Morrissey said. “You get them to believe in themselves because you’re working with kids who often haven’t been successful in school.”
Morrissey worked in the jail three hours daily from Monday through Friday.
Many of her students earned GEDs, and Morrissey helped point some of them to college.
“I certainly became attached to a lot of them,” she said. “There’s no question that for many kids this was their redemption. It provided them with a second chance.”