The one “official” session at CUE 2012 I was able to attend was “Teachers in Jail: Transforming Cultures.” I have to admit that I work with the San Diego County Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS) to help them implement blended and online learning options. In one of my first visits there I was able to observe the variety of school programs that are provided to these students – all who are “at-risk.” These are students who are kicked out of traditional schools for a variety of reasons ranging from poor attendance to carrying a weapon to school. JCCS serves more than 14,000 students in San Diego County from grades 1-12 yearly, of which 90% are in grades 9-12. Of those served, just 20% of the students are in JCCS for more than 90 days.
Their presentation was about how teachers throughout JCCS use technology in their teaching. One of the presenters stated: “JCCS students should not have access to less technology than regular school students.” The JCCS administration has formed a strong partnership with the probation department which has allowed more technology, including the Internet, to be provided to students. The probation departments are the ones in charge of Juvenile Halls and they are the ones who determine how much education is allowed – basically, teachers in the hall are guests of the probation department. The one speaker pointed out that technology is used as a motivator for students to use for their education. Students have to earn the right to use computers as well as the Internet. The computers they work on are checked daily to make sure only appropriate websites are visited and utilized.
One of the “ahas” for me, even after working with JCCS since August 2011, was that they talked about the online learning courses offered by the local community college that students in Juvenile Hall could take. The instructor has built an important partnership with the community college to make it all happen. He said that it gives a new level of hope for students who end up in the hall – that they can work on their college degree while incarcerated. What occurred to me is that without online learning, incarcerated students could NOT attend college courses.
Overall, it is evident that the administration, staff and teachers at JCCS have a passion for teaching and educating students in a similar way as any “regular” teacher. They do extraordinary things every day with students who are definitely at-risk of dropping out of school and give them hope that leads to a diploma or GED.