Changing the Story

Natalie Wyatt, MA, Curriculum and Instruction ’20, worked with the Brink Literacy Project staff on implementing the graphic memoir course inside the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility.

MCE faculty member, Paul Michalec, PhD, helped Wyatt create the innovative graphic memoir course.

When the Brink Literacy Project developed its Frames Prison Program, it was looking for students to work with inmates in Colorado’s prison system to help them extend their literacy, critical thinking, self-reflection, and storytelling skills. The Brink Literacy Project staff asked around, and the Morgridge Family Foundation suggested it partner with the University of Denver’s (DU) Morgridge College of Education (MCE). Today, that suggestion has become a reality. Faculty, students, and Brink Literacy Project staff have created a partnership dedicated to improving the lives of others.

According to the Brink Literacy Project, “There is a clear link between illiteracy and criminal activity. When education is limited, many people take desperate measures to make ends meet. Two-thirds of children who struggle with reading by the fourth grade will engage in criminal activity, becoming part of a cycle of incarceration and recidivism that can last a lifetime. In the U.S. prison system, more than 70 percent of inmates struggle with literacy and over 45 percent are lacking in functional literacy. That’s more than double the average illiteracy rate among American adults.”

The partnership was initiated in 2013. This year marked another milestone. Student involvement was taken to the next level when Natalie Wyatt, MA student in the Curriculum and Instruction program, began working directly with women inside the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. Natalie spent the past year alongside Brink Literacy Project founder, Dani Hedlund, and MCE faculty member, Dr. Paul Michalec, creating and implementing an innovative graphic memoir course, where the women transform a single turning point in their lives into a short graphic memoir. The entire team expressed the power of the project, and a desire to continue the partnership so that MCE students as well as the inmates have the opportunity to learn and grow.

So important are their stories that the partnership was this year’s chosen “One Day for DU” fundraising project. “One Day for DU” is the university’s annual 24-hour giving blitz featuring meaningful DU student, faculty, and staff led causes spanning the campus and greater community. In this single day, donors raised more than $5,000 so students like Natalie can continue to work with the Brink Literacy Project.

“These stories need to be heard,” Wyatt said. “And this project is making that happen.”

Students in the Frames Prison Program learn graphic design, writing, self-expression, analysis, and problem-solving skills. Artwork by Ejiwa Ebenebe.

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