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Program Helps Juvenile Offenders Stay on Track in School

by cherylca last modified Jul 07, 2015 02:26 PM
The hardest part of high school wasn’t earning a 3.5 grade-point average, securing a stellar ACT score or even graduating early for 17-year-old Alexia. The hardest part was moving 26 times during her high school career as a juvenile offender.

Sentenced as a juvenile for offenses she committed as 13-year-old, Alexia continually switched schools due to changes in her custody and treatment that included movements to home placements, residential care facilities and detention centers throughout Kansas. 

“At every placement, every time I moved, I presented myself to the school’s administrators and said, ‘I am here to go to school,” said Alexia, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy. “But it was hard. Each school had different kinds of teaching, different requirements and different expectations.” 

Multiple residence changes make up just one of the risk factors that contribute to why juvenile offenders like Alexia falter in school. However, for the first time, a program aimed at responding to this issue was made available to the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) juvenile services division this past spring. 

iGRAD, a Keys for Networking program, helps Kansas youth 15 and older track placement history and secure records in an online database to ease communication between schools and providers and deliver interventions for risk factors that create barriers to educational success. iGRAD operates with a grant from Kansas Kids @ GEAR UP to Keys for Networking which provides services to children and adolescents who have behavioral, education, mental health, physical health and substance abuse problems. 

The ability to be part of iGRAD gives juveniles in custody access to an invaluable tool, said Jane Adams, executive director of Keys for Networking. 

“Youth in custody are moved for a variety of reasons,” she said. “When youth move, they lose their friends, they lose their place in whatever course they were enrolled in and each time the curriculum and teaching methods change. In addition, time is lost and schools are reluctant – even within the same school district – to offer credit when the student moves in the middle of the semester.” 

Confidentiality issues also can cause problems for the student because teachers are not informed of where the student has moved or why, Adams said. When they disappear, school records often do not move with the student or in a timely fashion. Yet, the new school where the student is enrolling is often hesitant to believe the juvenile who can end up getting enrolled in a course the student has already taken. 

“One student took English III three times because each time he moved he could not convince the new school he’d already taken the course,” Adams said. “He ended up not graduating on time because he still had to complete English IV.” 

“Though most of these students – as many as half – also have special education needs, these needs are often not taken into account by the schools,” Adams said. 

Individualized education plans (IEPs), written statements of the educational program designed to meet a student’s individual needs, get lost in school transfers or the students are in the district for such a short period that the school did not have time to implement the plans or even enough time to assess the student for specialized needs, Adams said. 

“Students do not receive the services they need and that are federally and state mandated,” Adams said. “Moreover, they are expelled or suspended from school without consideration of their disability.” 

Through her involvement with GEAR UP and iGRAD, Alexis, who had an ACT score of 29, said she was able to better focus on her studies and that resulted in her graduating in December 2013. She has enrolled in summer school at the University of Kansas where she plans to pursue degrees in theater and vocal music. 

“GEAR UP was the only group that ever emphasized post-secondary education and careers,” said Alexis whose adoptive parents also stress the importance of education. “With GEAR UP, I studied careers, educational requirements and learned about scholarships. I also got help to apply to KU.” 

Currently, Alexis, who is now a third generation Jayhawker, is looking for funding to help her pay for her summer courses and is applying for a GEAR UP scholarship to foster care youth. The $3,000 per semester scholarship will help her reach her goals of a college education and a career in theater. 

“I plan to be on Broadway – and I will,” Alexis said.


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