Tuesday, June 01, 2010

This Week's News: Youth in Transition


U.S. schools chief: We're in 'educational emergency'
CNN – May 20, 2010
The battered economy is devastating school districts nationwide. Faced with shrinking budgets, many schools say they have no choice but to lay off teachers, cut arts and sports programs or consider other drastic measures to save money.  CNN's Soledad O'Brien talked with the top school official in the nation, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, about the ties between the economy and schools, the state of education and options for the classroom.

Reducing Student Dropout Rates
R&D Magazine – May 27, 2010
Six years ago in the Western Heights School District near Oklahoma City, nearly half of all students were dropping out before they could graduate. This was unacceptable, Superintendent Joe Kitchens decided, and began looking for a solution. He thought that by collecting data -- such as grades, attendance, socio-economic factors and other variables -- his teachers and counselors could better understand what was happening with students, why they would suddenly disengage and lose interest in class, and then proactively intervene with specialized programs to keep more students in school. The district deployed a new data system for tracking student progress, and today, Western Heights has reduced its dropout rate from 45 percent to 21 percent -- an amazing accomplishment. 

Juvenile Justice

Gov. Ritter signs bundle of bills to promote rehabilitation of criminals
The Denver Post, CO – May 25, 2010
Gov. Bill Ritter today will sign several bills that aim to lessen punishment for criminals and promote rehabilitation among the convicted.  Curbing the rate at which criminals reoffend has been part of Ritter's agenda since taking office, but this year was the first that he and bipartisan allies targeted controversial topics such as sentencing and parole reform to pay for it. The biggest bills came from the Ritter-convened Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, a mix of prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement, human services officials, lawmakers and other advocates.  Ritter pointed to the lowering of penalties for some drug offenses as the epitome of the philosophical shift afoot in the state's criminal justice system.

Confinement use curtailed
Chicago Tribune, IL – May 25, 2010
Of the seven suicides in Illinois' youth centers since 2000, three took place in what authorities call confinement, a form of punishment in which a youth is isolated and receives limited services.  Experts say the isolation can have a tragically demoralizing effect on already-troubled youths. But under the Department of Corrections, which ran the state's eight juvenile facilities until July 2006, inmates sometimes spent several weeks in confinement as punishment for violating rules.  The department gave so little thought to confinement that it did not track its use, officials said. That changed after the Department of Juvenile Justice was spun off from corrections. Juvenile Justice director Kurt Friedenauer sought to limit confinement, recognizing that it often is counterproductive. The move was a culture shift for a department used to meting out discipline.

Changes in juvenile lockup pay off
Houston Chronicle, Harris County, TX – May 20, 2010
Harris County officials and juvenile judges Thursday said they are saving more than $700,000 a month after making changes in detention policies to reduce the number of children who end up in the criminal justice system.  “It is a lot of money, especially in these times,” said state District Judge Mike Schneider.  He said one of the most effective programs includes sending youth who have been convicted — known in the juvenile system as a finding of delinquent conduct — home on intensive community supervision instead of jailing them in county facilities.

Foster Care

Around Town: Mentoring program helps foster children counter assumptions
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA – May 25, 2010
She's 19 and has spent most of her life in foster care, but whatever image you may be forming in your mind now, forget it.  Ivory Bennett will shoot down your preconceptions one by one.  At a recent weekday luncheon for Ward Home in the lobby of Heinz Hall, this Pitt freshman stood before a packed room of mentors and strangers and began by telling them what she wasn't.  Ward Home exists for people like Miss Bennett. The program takes boys and girls from the ages of 16 to 21, mentors some of them where they are living and sets others up in efficiency apartments, but helps all of them begin the transition into adulthood.

Laguna Creek beats odds with foster kid grads
The Sacramento Bee, Laguna Creek, CA – May 27, 2010
Meggan McKinley walked through graduation practice with the rest of the seniors at Laguna Creek High School Monday morning.  This afternoon she'll make her way to the stage at Arco Arena to the music of "Pomp and Circumstance," shake her principal's hand and receive her diploma.  She will wear a white cap and gown and move her tassel from the right to the left side when graduation is complete, just like everyone else.  But McKinley isn't like everyone else.  She is one of six foster youths at Laguna Creek defying the odds and graduating from high school this year. She will leave for Xavier University in New Orleans in a few weeks.

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