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Lighting the Fire Accepting Applications, Words Unlocked Poetry Competition Receives 400 Entries, The Southern Education Foundation Gets It Right, Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice Looking for a Deputy Director for Education—


Lighting the Fire: Recognizing Great School Leaders and Teachers

We are now accepting applications for our national school leader and teacher of the year competition, Lighting the Fire. The program is designed to recognize great leaders and teachers working in youth correctional and detention facilities around the country.
It takes a special person to deliver top-notch instruction day in and day out in secure youth centers. Through this competition, we seek to identify and honor teachers like Joe Buckles, last year’s winner. Joe teaches math at Juniper Hills High School, located inside a youth facility near Boise, Idaho. When asked what keeps him motivated and inspired each day, he replied:
I have very few students compared to teachers in traditional public high schools.  As a result, I get to build relationships with my students that may not be possible in those traditional school settings. This involvement with my students allows me to be directly impacted by their academic success. I get to share in their success as well as motivate and guide them when a topic needs to be readdressed.
 I am also reminded regularly of the life skills that students need in order to be successful in school. Many students enter my class without persistence and without being self-starters. Students need these qualities to succeed in school but also in life. I have many discussions with students about how developing these types of skills will benefit them throughout their adult lives.
We know there are more teachers like Joe Buckles out there, and we want to find them and highlight their work. To learn more about Lighting the Fire or to apply, click here. If you know a school leader or teacher who is doing good work in a youth facility, please encourage them to apply. We are accepting applications until May 30

Words Unlocked: Over 400 Youth Submit Poems

May 2 was the deadline for teachers to submit student poems for our second annual Words Unlocked poetry competition. Dozens of teachers working in secure facilities around the country—from down in Florida all the way up to in Oregon—submitted poems. Just as important, these teachers used the Words Unlocked curriculum to help students to develop their writing skills and share their talents.
The poems will be read by two rounds of judges, and then the Top Ten will be submitted to this year’s finalist judges: R. Dwayne Betts, Chelsea Clinton, Josh Lefkowitz, and Joaquin Zihuatanejo. We will announce the winners the week of May 19.
Last year’s winning poem, “Hell's Angel,” was written by Brianna, a student at Three Lakes High School, located inside Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility in Albany, Oregon. Scott Ryan, who taught the poetry initiative last year, recently reflected on the experience of teaching Words Unlocked to Brianna and his other students:
When I first announced this opportunity multiple students asked me this: “Why should I bother to enter this contest? It’s national. I won’t win. We (their peers) won’t win. Why would they pick us?” My response was always the same.
“The only way you lose, is by not writing a poem. You win by just writing. You win by just taking a risk and submitting your poem to be judged by another individual.”
I told them it was not about winning the contest but rather about the ability to find and use their voice and share it with themselves, their peers, their teachers and if they selected to, with CEEAS. 
The results were incredible! I had students that were never willing to write or share anything engaged in this project. Students were working with partners and even created mini-writing teams to share ideas and their poetry. They supported each other, gave constructive criticism and received constructive criticism appropriately. They opened themselves up emotionally and academically.
To listen to audio recordings of last year’s winners, click here. Watch for our next newsletter to learn who this year’s winners are.

Southern Education Foundation Gets It Right

In its report, Just Learning: The Imperative to Transform Juvenile Justice Systems into Effective Educational Systems, released on April 17, the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) makes the case for reinventing juvenile justice systems so that education becomes their primary goal. Currently, the report argues, “the effects of inadequate, ineffective education” in secure youth facilities “are profound and crippling for both troubled youth and their communities.”
We couldn’t agree more. Too many young people spend their time in secure care settings learning very little: The curriculum lacks relevance and consists primarily of worksheets. Instruction is limited, often rote, and doesn’t push kids to develop the academic skills they will need to be successful when they return to high school and plan for their future. Students are kept off computers and forbidden to work on technology skills because of outdated notions about how to provide secure internet access. 
In addition, the amount of time devoted to teaching and learning in secure youth facilities is clearly insufficient. Instruction is interrupted for activities that should take place outside of school hours. Far too many young people miss out on instruction while inappropriately and unnecessarily held in isolation and segregated units.  â€œSchool” for this population consists of one to two hours outside of a cell, completing worksheets. The results, as highlighted in the report, are that students often fail to earn credits, improve their reading and math skills, or obtain their high school diploma or GED while they are detained. In short, SEF argues, the longer youth remain confined, the further behind they fall.
A number of people who have read the report have asked me how it is that young people in secure care settings, where school is mandatory, can actually fall further behind while they are incarcerated. Here’s how I respond:
Take a sixteen year-old who reads at the fifth grade level, who got kicked out of school in the ninth grade, who doesn’t really like school and doesn’t see it as a meaningful avenue for him to improve his chances in life. Lock him up for nine months. During that time, give him worksheets and crossword puzzles for his classes, place him in and out of the segregation unit every few days because of incidents he gets into in the evenings, and when you are ready to release him, hand him an updated transcript and leave it up to him and his parents to re-enroll him in high school. That’s how you do it.
Unfortunately, that scenario plays out for a significant number of the young people locked up in secure care facilities. That’s what we have to change. 
The SEF report includes a series of proposals to improve the education provided to incarcerated youth. They include institutional changes to ensure that the “functions, arrangements, and daily schedules” of juvenile detention centers advance teaching and learning, that every student has the benefit of an individualized education plan, and that students make a seamless transition to educational and employment opportunities upon release. The report also proposes reforms that would make it possible to hold secure care agencies and their education partners accountable for demonstrating real gains for the students they serve.
Thankfully, here at CEEAS we know of agency leaders, principals, and teachers who are doing their part to make schools in youth facilities places where young people can begin to develop the academic skills they need to be successful. In a recent article for JJIE, “Models for Juvenile Justice Schools,” Ely Wu highlights examples of the good things that are happening, including the comprehensive accountability system Susan Lockwood and her team are putting in place to support teachers who work in youth facilities in Indiana and the Road to Success Academy program, emphasizing project-based, relevant learning, that the Los Angeles County Office of Education is replicating in secure care facilities. Wu’s article also offers a nice summary of the SEF report.

Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice Looking for a Deputy Director for Education

Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s new governor, recently appointed Andy Block as the Director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. This is great news for youth and families in the state. Andy has been a long-time advocate for reforming Virginia’s juvenile justice system.
Now, Andy is looking to hire a deputy director for education to run the schools inside the department’s facilities. This is a terrific job for a passionate, reform-minded educator who wants to help Andy and his team make Virginia’s DJJ schools some of the best in the nation. Click here to see the job posting and to apply. Please forward this announcement to individuals who might be interested.

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