COVID-19 Communications | Communications

BPI’s Work Continues Despite COVID-19

In March, BPI shifted our in-person work in the prisons to a distance model and in June students successfully completed the spring semester of more than 85 courses across six prisons. Although we were unable to hold commencement ceremonies in June, every student who was eligible for degree completion successfully finished their requirements. Over the summer we continued coursework and held pedagogy and syllabi contingency workshops with faculty to plan for a fall full of unknowns. In the face of it all, our community is pulling closer. Our team takes pride in describing our work with words like proximity, community, and human touch. These shared values are at the foundation of our strategy for responding to this pandemic. Read a note from BPI’s Executive Director about BPI’s decision to leave the prisons, here.


Packets of coursework going to BPI students for spring 2020 course completion.

When we made the decision to temporarily stop going into the prisons, faculty and staff pulled together over an intensive two-week period to reconfigure courses and deliver materials across all six correctional facilities. In Brooklyn and Holyoke, the microcollege campuses shifted to an online format for courses, advising, and tutoring, as well as informal study halls and community gatherings.

Since March, we have sent in weekly newsletters that update incarcerated students about what’s happening at BPI, with alumni, at Bard College, at microcolleges. It offers important communication about academics and the BPI community gardens while also including messages from across our community including from faculty, alumni, tutors, Bard’s president Leon Botstein, and former commencement speaker Dr. Rev. William Barber III. BPI’s Urban Farming and Sustainability program has been able to send in seedlings and other materials so that students could keep up the community gardens this season.

Seedlings were delivered to the prisons that host BPI community gardens, spring 2020.

This summer, 51 BPI students who have completed the AA were admitted and enrolled into the BA program and BPI expanded the BA, historically offered only at Eastern, to multiple facilities. In August, new BA students began an Advanced Editing for the BA workshop while others began Bard’s hallmark Citizen Science course. We delivered Fall 2020 registration packets and signed students up for the new academic year.

Meanwhile, students at the Bard microcolleges also took summer classes and produced thoughtful and poignant essays and poems about language and power.

On August 22, the first cohort of eight

Bard at Brooklyn Public Library microcollege graduates joined thirteen graduates from the microcollege in Holyoke MA, and one BPI student who completed his BA after coming home, to participate virtually in the Bard College 2020 commencement ceremony.

BPL President and CEO Linda Johnson also received an honorary doctorate of humane letters at Bard Commencement, recognizing her ambitious and daring leadership of the institution. “In my role at the library I see first hand the work commitment and tenacity it takes to get through the pedagogy,” she told the virtual and in-person audience, congratulating the graduates.

Every AA graduate of the Bard at Holyoke Microcollege class of 2020 who applied to continue their education was accepted at 4-year colleges. They are beginning classes this fall at Mt. Holyoke, Westfield State, and Hampshire College.

Bard College virtual Commencement ceremony Saturday August 21, 2020, at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. [Photo by Karl Rabe]


Despite the difficulties COVID has presented, BPI kicked off the fall 20202 semester in early Septemeber across 9 campuses including the six prisons in which BPI operates and the two microcolleges in Brooklyn and Holyoke.

This fall, BPI courses in prison will blend some use of telephone or video conferencing with directed semi-independent coursework supported by peer collaboration. Staff spent many weeks putting together course materials including packets of supplies, course materials, and books that were delivered to the prisons just ahead of the new semester.

An outdoor, socially distanced project putting course materials together for the fall semester.

The Bard at Brooklyn Public Library microcollege successfully ran a virtual admissions cycle this spring and have welcomed 18 students to the Brooklyn Public Library campus this fall.

The 46 students enrolled at Bard at BPL and 29 at Bard Microcollege Holyoke for the 2020-2021 academic year will be attending classes by videoconference with additional activities that offer students flexibility in creating and navigating their learning environment from home. Fall courses include Ethics and the Ethics of Thinking, Poets with Bodies Embodied in Poems, Thinking with Things, and The Novel in a Global Context. In addition to coursework, this fall Bard at BPL is looking forward to the return of the Thursday Lunchtime Speaker series.


In alliance with other advocates and colleagues, has pressed the governor to offer clemencies and medical furloughs immediately. We have also helped fund PPE to be distributed to all incarcerated people across NYS prisons. Read the letter BPI signed, here


Now, BPI alumni are on the front lines of COVID-related crises, working in hospitals and at the NYC Department of Health, raising funds to provide PPE to essential workers, advocating for #CLOSErikers and defunding policing, and becoming contact tracers across New York.


Vanessa FieldsAto WilliamsHancy Maxis

Check out these alumni chronicles about three BPI alumni working in public health fields during COVID.

BPI students and alumni who have completed public health coursework, held fellowships, and gone on to careers in the field are leaders both inside the prisons and across NYC, working on the front lines at the Department of Health, shelters, social service agencies, and more.  Their voices are more urgent than ever. Check out this new page of the website dedicated to BPI’s work in Public Health.

Since COVID, alumni, faculty, microcollege students and staff have created and maintained a virtual BPI community, sharing experiences and insight by authoring more than a dozen informational pieces on topics ranging from Public Health COVID-19 updates, food and nutrition, and disaster preparedness, to advocacy and action on behalf of people in NY jails and prisons. Check them out here. We’ve also hosted a series of public health forums for BPI alumni and microcollege students to converse with leading public health experts on a range of topics including mental health and well-being, COVID myths and misinformation, the CARES Act, and the changing state of philanthropy related to the current crisis.

Jonathan Alvarez ’19, founder and director of the education therapy-based reentry organization 914UNITED, has deployed his team to support essential workers through donations of food, beverages, and PPE


We are providing direct cash assistance for alumni and microcollege students in the most need. Our nine-person reentry and alumni affairs team is in direct contact with our community of 600+ alumni who have returned home, providing resources and information for social services, employment opportunities, financial assistance, housing resources, and more.

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