D. Mora (left) and Mark Jarosik, participants in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s innovative Peer Literacy Mentor Program, demonstrate a three-dimensional Mercator Projection model as part of the word wall program. “Learning modalities play a key role in the teaching of geography,” Jarosik said. “The Mercator Projection mobile questions allow students to explore our dynamic world.” (Photo by San Quentin News)

This article was first published by San Quentin News, a newspaper that reports on rehabilitative efforts to increase public safety and achieve social justice from inside San Quentin State Prison. Visit SQN’s website or follow them on Twitter. The article has been lightly edited to add clarity and conform with PJP style rules.

Word walls,” which show high frequency use words, are helping San Quentin residents learn English, history and math. 

The display by the Peer Literacy Mentor Program (PLMP) is viewed as both an educational tool and an art form. Word walls are a way to make a classroom more friendly and inviting. PLMP was created by Gov. Gavin Newsom and operates within state prisons as an aid to people seeking higher education.

The San Quentin word walls are all similar: small pieces of paper or cards have a word written on the front and a definition on the back, and those papers are then posted on a wall. The end result is a wall covered with words. 

“Students can use the words as a reference during reading and writing, making them more independent while teaching them how to use a reference tool,” said Samantha Cleaver in a June 2018 article on the WeAreTeachers website. 

H-Unit’s PLMP trainees developed the first word wall which became an inspiration for building additional word walls. 

“It was a new challenge that I had never done before. At the end of the day we actually learned a lot and had a lot of fun doing it,” Tay Reed said.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Harry Goodall Jr.

Harry Goodall Jr. is a writer incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. He is a journalist and frequent contributing writer to San Quentin News.