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MCVTS teacher finds educating county inmates fulfilling

MCVTS teacher finds educating county inmates fulfilling

There is one teacher employed by the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools who doesn’t work on one of the five campuses. She teaches at the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center in North Brunswick.

“Of all the jobs I’ve had, this one fulfills me best,” said Lisa DiLeo, who has been teaching at the county jail since 2007.

“I’ve had a lot of success with the inmates because I really care about them succeeding,” she said. “Basically I’ll do anything I can to help them.”

DiLeo deals with 60 to 70 inmates – both male and female – at any given time, teaching all of the basic high school subjects – reading, writing, math, social studies -- to get them ready to take a high school equivalency exam, or just for enrichment.

She has experience as a school psychologist and as a psychologist in a mental health facility.

“Those experiences really helped me to deal with these people,” she said.

“It’s a really good program,” said Dawn Lystad, MCVTS director of adult education. “It’s really good to provide this service for the inmates. It’s one step toward their futures.”

"Lisa is a perfect example of how one person can make all the difference," said Warden Mark Cranston of the Middlesex County Department of Correction. "Her dedication and genuine love for what she does is evident to all those who she teaches and is appreciated by all the staff who work at the jail. She’s truly one of a kind.”

Each inmate in the program is tested to see what level he or she should be in. Some inmates can be taught in small groups, but many have to be dealt with individually.

“Each person is so different it has to be individualized,” she said, noting that a key to success is earning the trust of her students.

“I try to tell them that I’m there to help them. It’s important for them to tell me what they don’t understand.

“I don’t embarrass them and I don’t let them embarrass each other,” she said. “I really enjoy working with people to give them confidence to know they can succeed.

“I don’t get angry or impatient. I try to break it down to see where they’re not thinking straight.”

DiLeo said she believes many of the inmates started down the wrong path because of lack of success in school. Some of her students have committed very serious crimes and will eventually be sent to state prison.

When the GED exam is administered at the jail – she said there is a success rate of over 80 percent – she gets to give out the diplomas. She said inmates often will tear up when graduating.

Since the pandemic, she has been providing worksheets to the inmates and grading them, since they don’t have access to computers.

“I’m still doing what I can without seeing them in person,” she said.

Some of her students will continue studying after leaving the jail and will contact her after they graduate.

“I get a lot of letters of gratitude,” she said. “It’s joy to me.”