Aany day she can manage it, Kris Hoffman ’85 rides her bike 10 miles or so to a job she loves in Colchester, Vt. — director of education for the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, the state’s most secure facility for youth. Hoffman, who has been at Woodside since 2011, describes her students as “the best kids in the world under the worst circumstances.” They range in age from 10 to 18, some staying in the 100-bed center for a few days, others a few months or more. Hoffman and her staff work to determine students’ individual educational needs and build a program to meet them.
Do you still work in the classroom?
I do some teaching, [but] I mostly administer the program. I work with the community, the Vermont Agency of Education, the Department for Children and Families, stakeholders, and other community groups of specialized populations to develop initiatives or bring initiatives into our building so that our kids can have a free and appropriate education despite that fact that they are locked in this facility.
Which part of your job do you like best?
Anything I can do with kids. In fact one of the reasons I was late for this phone call was that on Friday afternoons student-athletes from Saint Michael’s College come here and play with the kids. They are outside playing kickball right now with the women’s varsity hockey team. After we get off the phone, I’m going to run out there and play kickball with them, which is a great way to end the week.
I just love seeing them behave like kids. They are preparing for court, they have really difficult family situations, they feel like they are at the bottom of a pit and they can’t crawl out. They have substance-abuse problems, mental-health trauma, all kinds of issues. But on the days that I can go out there and play kickball with them and we’re all laughing, that’s really just the best ever.
Current Job: Director of Education, Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center
Peace Corps. Volunteer;
B.A., Trinity College, Secondary Education
Give an example of when you thought, ‘Boy am I glad I’m doing this job.’
When the kids call or come back or I encounter them in the community and they are so excited to tell me how well they are doing — or that they finished high school or are working or they’re in community college, I think that’s great. They’re always thankful and grateful; those are the best moments.
When people learn what you do, do they ever have negative stereotypes?
People have a lot of ideas about “juvie.” I try to portray that I want to treat everybody with unconditional positive regard, regardless of their current situation. And I’m always going to come down on the side of children. Things are hard for children and families, and I’m hoping that I can leave people with one little kernel of truth — that no one is born to become some kind of criminal monster. I don’t want to throw people away.