LAUSD moving more kids from juvenile camps to graduation
Mike Szymanski | April 22, 2016
LA Unified is expanding a Camps to College program that helps students coming out of juvenile detention camps get back into school and graduate.
Since the program launched two years ago in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department and the Los Angeles Probation Office, it has served 1,189 students. Most of them have come from the South District (299); the fewest have come from the Northwest District (73).
The Camps to College program is currently located at the Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center. In August it will open at the Harris Newmark Continuation School just west of downtown LA, and the district hopes to replicate it in more locations.
“We are not opening a new school, but creating a model that is changing the face of youth transitioning from juvenile camp so they can reintegrate to school and get all the services they need to stabilize,” said Jesus Corral, senior director of the Los Angeles County Probation Department who is working closely with LA Unified on the transitional program. “This is a model we have been working on for quite some time. We are transitioning youth into another school or alternative school based on their needs in a very individualized basis.”
More than half of the students in juvenile youth detention camps are from LA Unified schools. “It is more important now than ever to work together and divert youth from the juvenile justice system and open doors for youth coming out of the juvenile justice system,” said Corral, who on Tuesday addressed board member Monica Garcia’s Successful School Climate Progressive Discipline & Safety Committee.
“We can replicate this in all the other local districts to help these students be successful,” said Erika F. Torres, director of Pupil Services and Drop-Out Prevention and Recovery in LA Unified’s Student Health Services.
When the program expands to Harris Newmark in August, it will include probation department support, mental health experts and Public Service & Attendance counselors as well as other school support.
“I see this like a triage,” Torres said. “We will assess their needs and put in place the supports they need for successful graduation. It’s a pathway for youth to welcome them back.”
One of the recent students helped by the Camps to College program who spoke Tuesday was Randy Dwayne May Jr., a senior at the William J. Johnston Community Day in San Pedro. He talked about being sent to multiple camps for multiple parole violations and a burglary charge.
“I remember a time when I saw five different judges and had five different probation officers, it was crazy,” Randy said. “It was the bad influences in my neighborhood that got me making bad choices. People who were supposed to be my friends just weren’t looking out for me.”
He credits his LA Unified counselor, Michael Hinckley, with keeping a check on him, and he just completed the last of four classes he needed to graduate.
“Now I can graduate at the end of the year, and they talked to me about staying on the right track,” Randy said. “Being in the program keeps my mind off things from my neighborhood, and I feel supported and safe.”
He said this stretch of time since his probation ended in November “is the longest I’ve been out of camp for a while.” He wants to join the military and then train to be a probation officer.
His counselor said, “I give Randy full credit for what he accomplished. He went to camps three times and still strived to get a high school diploma even after he turned 18 so he can do something great in life.”
Right now, the program has three full-time counselors, six placement counselors in probation camps and six ongoing counselors. When the program expands in August, it will do so with the existing staff.
“We want to eliminate all the barriers that may keep the students from succeeding, and so we work with the entire family,” Torres said. The program also involves training with the parents and provides youth transportation to the school if necessary.
Helene Cameron, principal of Central High School/Tri C and who has had students in the program, said it helps the students beyond graduation. “This provides new opportunities and ideas for the next part of their lives.”
Torres recounted one student who called her up and asked for help after being in five different camps. She helped him figure out what credits he needed, and he asked, “Can I walk across the stage with a cap and gown?” After completing the coursework, he recently came into the office to get his diploma, she said, because he will be in Central High’s graduation ceremony.
“We like seeing the county mental health services, probation and all these different agencies come together to see fewer kids in camp and more at graduation,” said board member Garcia, who helped push for the program. “We like leading and learning. Well done!”