I’m writing this newsletter on a plane, flying home after spending two days at the Travis Hill School, located inside of the New Orleans Juvenile Detention Center. I’m upbeat, and inspired because I know good people are doing all they can to make school meaningful and engaging for the students there. And I see the work as being connected to a larger movement working for ongoing juvenile justice reform in the state--to raise the age, to pull teens out of adult prisons, to develop accountability measures for education in long-term facilities, to reduce the use of solitary confinement and punitive isolation.
I’m energized by other news I hear from schools in youth facilities spread far and wide. For example, 8 young women held at Oak Creek Youth Correctional Center, a facility outside of Portland, all just passed a 4 credit Introduction to Computer Skills class offered onsite by Portland Community College (PCC), prompting the professor from PCC to comment: "The students were fabulous. I cannot recall having a class that was as consistently hardworking and attentive.” On the other side of the country 9 students confined at New Beginnings Youth Development Center, just outside of DC, completed a college level Inside-Out class with 35 students from Howard University, leading one of the Howard students to describe the students as "regular people who made bad choices," while noting that "a lot of them have brilliant minds." In early December, hundreds of students from dozens of juvenile justice facilities participated in the Hour of Code, something that would have been impossible just a couple of years ago when so few facilities allowed students access to technology and the Internet. A similar number of students competed in our nationwide animation contest, Start from Scratch, where students use coding and animation to tell a story of transformation.
I could cite further examples of teachers and schools really pushing to make schools work for students who are locked up. I could also, unfortunately, lament about the injustices that remain endemic in many juvenile justice facilities: small, local detention centers where students only get to school for 1-2 hours per day in spite of state laws requiring that all students receive a full day of school, punitive discipline policies that punish kids by locking them in their rooms for hours at a time, coursework that is just worksheets recycled over and over.
But as the year comes to a close, I want to once again ask that you join us and celebrate the season by spending a few minutes listening to a young person sharing a holiday story with loved ones. This simple project--select a book, read and record it, and send it off to someone you care for--enables young people held in confinement to reach out, to share, and be so much more than ‘another kid locked up in a juvenile jail.’
We started this project, Sending Some Love, nine years ago at one site, the Maya Angelou Academy in DC. This year, students from sixty-seven schools in juvenile facilities across the country recorded holiday books and then sent the recordings, along with the book, to a young child – of their own, a younger sibling, or a child at a nearby hospital. One site even recorded youtube videos of the students reading, so that family members could watch and listen. Although our students won’t be home to celebrate the holidays with loved ones, their voices will. I hope you will click HERE, listen to a story and share it along.
Wishing you peace in the New Year-