Oregon Youth Corrections Education Program Partners With ManagedMethods To Provide Safe & Secure Education Continuity To Troubled Students
Eden Nelson is a Lead Systems Administrator and Developer for the Cascade Technology Alliance. The Alliance is a consortium of education technology departments that serves over 50 school districts, private and charter schools, and public and non-profit agencies in Oregon. They are also expanding to working with school districts and state agencies outside of Oregon.
Among the many hats he wears, Nelson supports some of the IT needs of the Oregon Youth Corrections Education Program (YCEP), which serves juvenile detention and correctional facilities across Oregon.
In 2014, The state of Oregon was able to invest in Chromebooks for schools and other educational programs across the state. Nelson was then tasked with the design and implementation of Chromebooks and Google for Education.
The students in YCEP have a relatively unique access to connected classroom resources thanks in large part to Nelson’s tireless efforts to provide educational equity for incarcerated students. Not only does he work for the students in Oregon, but he is also an enthusiastic resource for IT leaders and admins across the country who are trying to implement cloud-connected learning in their own youth corrections education programs.
There are many benefits to educational institutions using cloud applications like Google G Suite. Among them are the low-cost and maintenance compared to on-prem servers, the scalability, and the ease of access. One of the main benefits to students is collaboration. However, in the correctional environment, communication and collaboration between students is strictly prohibited for a number of reasons.
Thus, when Nelson was approached by the Oregon Youth Authority about implementing Chromebooks and G Suite for YCEP its collaboration capabilities presented a challenge, rather than a benefit. In effect, he was tasked with designing and implementing a way to make a collaboration platform suitable for a corrections environment. He also needed to make sure that students were not able to access Google search and other services, which creates a big filtering challenge.
The biggest, and perhaps most important, challenge was creating a quality learning environment for these students.
“I think of the kids in the YCEP program as students first. But I also need to deal with the reality that they’re in a restricted environment,” Nelson explains. “We would be failing as educators if we didn’t make sure that the technology penalty for these kids is as low as possible. Consider what their future would look like trying to get a job after having zero experience with technology. We need to do whatever we can to break the cycle of institutionalization for these kids and help make them productive members of the community.”
Enabling students in the correctional system with a connected classroom is no easy task. In fact, many youth corrections institutions simply do without it because they think that the technical challenges are either insurmountable or too expensive. Eden Nelson is working hard to change this mindset in his fellow educational tech peers.
“I think of the kids in the YCEP program as students first, but I also need to deal with the reality that they’re in a restricted environment. We would be failing as educators if we didn’t make sure that the technology penalty for these kids is as low as possible. With Cloud Monitor and other tools, we can make education equity in youth corrections facilities as balanced as possible while making sure that students and the community are safe.”
— Eden Nelson, Lead Systems Administrator and Developer
Nelson started by building a multi-layered tech stack that provided layers of protection and security between each YCEP student and the outside community. He also needed to have all these protections in place and working properly before he could roll-out Chromebooks to YCEP students and give them access to Google Drive and Docs.
He uses several tools to accomplish this, including SafeDoc and both on-prem and cloud-based web filtering tools. He uses a V-shaped framework for building out his filtering layers. Absolute policies that cannot be broken, such as accessing Google search, are at the bottom of the V and controlled by the Chrome policy itself. In the middle is the DNS-based filter on-prem. At the top are the most easily configured and accessible policies, which are controlled by the cloud-based filter. This allows teachers to easily allow a certain URL for a lesson if they need to without breaking other critical access policies.
As he was building out his security structure, Nelson recognized that between SafeDoc and his multi-layered web filters he still had a gap that might allow communication between the students at YCEP.
“What Cloud Monitor does is it automatically unshares any documents that are being shared between students,” Nelson explains. “SafeDoc is great because it blocks students from being able to open the document and it removes the thumbnail image. But, when a document is shared in Google Drive, it is placed in the ‘Shared with me’ section where you can see the document title. This is where Cloud Monitor comes in and breaks that share within minutes.”
Nelson had tried using a similar solution prior to Cloud Monitor but found that the technology was unreliable—which is something he simply cannot afford in the corrections environment.
“On top of having a platform that actually works and is reliable, the ManagedMethods team is also a joy to work with. They’re very organized and responsive. They were also open to learning more to understand our unique needs.”
— Eden Nelson, Lead Systems Administrator and Developer
“Cloud Monitor is a necessity. I needed it set up and configured before I could turn on Google Drive and Docs for our students,” says Nelson. “The benefits of Cloud Monitor is that it’s education-focused, the technology is reliable, and it’s low-cost.”
For ManagedMethods’ solutions team, this was a new and different way of thinking about how the platform might be used. When Nelson started his 30-day free audit, he worked with them to get aligned on what he needed to do so they could help him get it properly configured.
“I spent about 15 to 20 hours initially working with the customer support team at ManagedMethods to get the platform configured and tested. I spent a lot of this time testing the product, our policy configurations, and managing a staged rollout,” Nelson explains. “We had to be this meticulous in the beginning because we’re in an environment where it absolutely has to work without fail before I could allow our students access to Google tools. On top of having a platform that actually works and is reliable, the team is also a joy to work with. They’re very organized and responsive. They were also open to learning more to understand our unique needs.”
“We were among the first in the country to take on this challenge. As the leader, we needed to prove that it was possible. I didn’t want anyone who had started down this road to get discouraged and quit. It’s not easy and it costs a bit of money, but I knew it was possible.”
Today, students in YCEP benefit from access to computer and technology skills required in future job markets. They also experience a continuity of education that is otherwise lacking in their lives, and that is lacking in many other state youth corrections programs. Students receive a login the day after they are enrolled in the program and that sticks with them for the rest of their time with the state.
“Unfortunately, justice-involved youth can come back on a regular basis just like adults,” explains Nelson. “Having an account that stays with them until they graduate—regardless of when that happens—enables a continuity of education that helps keep the student motivated in their learning, regardless of what else is going on in their lives.”
If the student does come back to the correctional institution or detention facility, their account is reactivated and their work is restored. Their progress doesn’t need to be slowed down by repeating assignments that they’d completed before. The account also follows them if they need to move to another facility or if they are moved from the detention to the corrections facility.
“My goal is to make education equity in youth corrections facilities as balanced as possible. With Cloud Monitor and other tools, we can do that while making sure that students and the community are safe.”
From a platform management standpoint, Nelson hardly spends any time using Cloud Monitor. Now that it is configured the way he needs it to be, he spends about five minutes or less in the product per week. He is also planning on enabling Signals, ManagedMethods’ cyber safety capabilities, in the future. Signals will help YCEP’s team monitor text and images in Google Drive to detect potential safety issues such as explicit content, hate speech, and self-harm red flags.
Nelson recommends Cloud Monitor to anyone who is providing education in detention and correctional facilities. He’s also glad to help anyone in that position.
“We need to get these kids connected. I’m available to help and reassure you that, with the proper solutions in place, you can do this without worrying about the safety of the students or the community,” says Nelson. “Teachers are the most critical part of education for kids in corrections. But, as tech folks, we can play our part to make sure that the tech penalty against them is as low as possible. If we don’t, we’re failing the students and we’re failing our communities.”