Venus Shade: I graduated from Penn State in 1994, I went to work at Mifflin County Probation and Parole and was a probation officer. I worked there for about seven years and then I went to the Mifflin County Correctional Facility and was the correctional counselor for a year. I left there and then went to Loysville Secure Treatment Unit in Perry County and did different jobs throughout the Secure Treatment Facility. When I left there, I was the assistant director.
Venus: I think that the philosophy of teaching is pretty much like the philosophy of being a mom. Every day is a different day; you have to set expectations for, not only your students, but yourself. I have a goal that I want to reach every day, and I want to have fun doing it but at the same time make sure that we’re learning the skills that we need to have to go out and be in this career. We spend a lot of time on bookwork, and I try to make my classes a little more realistic, for example, this is what it says we should do, and we will do this, but this is how we’re going to do it and how the real world kind of operates.
My philosophy is also to be upfront with the students, have them be honest and passionate about what they’re doing and to allow them to kind of find their own way because they come in here with an idea of what they want to do with a criminal justice degree. And not everyone’s cut out to be a police officer, not everyone’s cut out to work with juveniles, and sometimes, I guess, it’s allowing them to grow and change while they’re here even though it’s only two years. For some, it’s huge growth.
Venus: Well, I think that we have a very nicely balanced program here at South Hills, and that has a lot to do with everybody at each campus working together to make this program grow and change. We’ve added and deleted classes over the past seven years or so, but we offer classes in law enforcement, psychology, correctional counseling, and working with juveniles. We also offer classes with emergency preparedness. We also do some terrorism/homeland security stuff because that’s also a great hiring place for our students. We do specialized certifications with handcuffing and pepper spray, so we do a wide range of classes. I think probably one of the best things that we offer is the ability for the students to hear from individuals within the field. I often have people who have much more expertise than myself in a field come in and talk to the students and a lot of its community-oriented, but they’re able to teach the students what’s happening right now in their very own community.
Venus: It’s the culmination of their entire learning experience here. The very last term, before going out on an internship, they are given a snippet of a scenario, and it can be a robbery that occurred at the Minute Mart at this hour, this much money was taken, the clerk was assaulted, etc. They then have to fill in all of the blanks and when I say all of the blanks, it’s filling in who the person was, coming up with the victim, coming up with the offender, coming up with the police report, the detective’s report, the evidence, staging the crime scene, taking pictures, making sure that the proper forms are filled out so that if they have evidence that needs to go a lab, it goes to the lab and they know where to send it to. We also tag evidence and bag evidence.
We make sure we go through the trial process. They (the students) have to be the prosecutor and the defense attorney. They then have to be given the sentence to the individual; they have to do a pre-sentence investigation. They have to then go into the correctional facility and be the corrections officer, and they’re not allowed to cheat, meaning that, if they have a scenario and they say, “well I’ll just kill my guy” that won’t work; we have to go through the process. It takes a long time for them to do but it’s also one of those projects where it can be whatever they want it to be. I’ve had students who don’t want to do a whole lot, and then I’ve had students that do fantastic jobs, I guess some creativity does matter there, but they seem to enjoy it; I enjoy it.
Venus: I have simplistic expectations of my students. Honesty, respect for themselves, for me, and the other students in the class, drive, and determination. I’ve been asked many times, “What makes a good student? What types of students do you get?” We get a variety of students here at South Hills, and I can’t say that I’ve ever had a student that wasn’t capable. But I have had students who at that point and time in their lives, it just didn’t seem to fit but we somehow manage to figure it out and make it work. Above all else, when I see a student starting to falter a little bit, it’s my responsibility as the instructor to go to that student and find out what’s going on: is this something we can fix and if so, how do we fix it?
Students are expected to be honest with themselves, and they also need to allow themselves to make mistakes. You need to do your work, you need to participate, and you need to be an active student. If you’re not going to participate in the program, you’re not going to be successful.
Attendance is very important. You can’t learn anything if you’re not in the classroom. We have textbooks but, like I said before, much of what the students learn is through conversation, discussion that we have in the class. If you’re not there, you’re missing probably 50% of what I want to teach you.
Venus: When our students graduate, they are able to do several things. I’ve had students go to Loysville Youth Development Center to work with juveniles, I’ve had students go into the military, and I’ve had students continue their education. I’ve had students go to the sheriff’s department, the [Mifflin County] correctional facility, The Abuse Network, and Central Counties Youth Center in Bellefonte. I stress to the students that Criminal Justice isn’t all about law enforcement, and that’s why we offer such a variety of courses with counseling and psychology because, ultimately, you’re here to serve. You’re either serving the community, the offender, or a victim. There’s a wide gamut of things that students do. There hasn’t particularly been one track and that’s nice because it tells me that those students are finding their way, where they fit it, their own niche – not something that someone else expected of them or maybe that initial expectation they had of themselves.