Monday, November 08, 2010

School Offers Model Lessons for D.C.'s Jailed Youths

Kudos to the Maya Angelou Academy and its founders, David Domenici and James Forman:

It's not easy to keep youths on task for learning in a youth prison, but David Domenici, the principal of the Maya Angelou Academy, a charter-like school here serving incarcerated juveniles, is trying to do it while at the same time creating a model program for improving educational services for young offenders.

Located at the New Beginnings Youth Development Center, a lockup facility housing young men convicted of crimes in the District of Columbia, Maya Angelou is one of a small number of schools run by charter school operators targeting incarcerated youths. As of late last month, the academy was educating 60 to 70 teenagers, ages 14 to 19, who were serving time for crimes ranging from unauthorized use of a vehicle, to armed robbery, to manslaughter. A few stay as little as five days; others may be incarcerated for a year.

Yet, in the short time they're here, Mr. Domenici hopes to give each of them the best education possible and also likely the best education they've ever had.

"The good news," he said, is here "you have a teacher who likes you and supports you, and kids don't make fun of you if you can't read."

In a pocket of the education field that many agree has been largely ignored, Maya Angelou Academy so far seems to be succeeding in that mission, by most accounts.

"The school is designed to be an integral part of the overall program in a way that helps youths turn their lives around," said Robert Schwartz, the executive director of the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia-based child-advocacy group. Likewise, Cramer Brooks, a court consultant tasked with evaluating the school found it to be "one of the best programs in a confinement facility" she had ever seen.

A 'Transformation'

The See Forever Foundation, a nonprofit organization that operates three charter schools in the District of Columbia, won the contract to provide education services to incarcerated youths more than three years ago from Washington's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

Mr. Domenici, 46, a lawyer and a son of former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., initially co-established the See Forever Foundation with fellow lawyer James Forman Jr. in order to run a school for youths who had been arrested in the District of Columbia. The small program grew over time, though, into three charter schools serving a broad range of students.


School Offers Model Lessons for D.C.'s Jailed Youths

By Mary Ann Zehr

Laurel, Md.

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