More than 5,000 youths remain locked up in California at an estimated cost of $380,000 per day. Community-based programs have proven an effective strategy at keeping kids out of jail. Laura Flynn has this report from Rancho Cielo a community school in Monterey County.
By Laura Flynn | KUSP News -
Teacher Christian Lamonea and 13 students balance short bent wires on popsicle sticks. 18-year-old Anastasia Gonzales explains they’re watching how involuntary muscle activity works.
“We’re learning about like bones, ligaments, and bruises and all that stuff.,” she says. “It’s cool to see how, like the body works and stuff.”
Individual Attention for Students on Probation
Down the hall in Chris Dever’s class about 13 students work independently as he helps one student. 17-year-old Sheridan Sampognaro is almost done with a project concerned with instances of mathematical ratios in nature.
“The golden ratio and the Fibonacci all come together,” she says. “See in the pine cone the spirals. Three, five, three plus five is eight. Five plus eight is thirteen and so on, right?”
This is Rancho Cielo’s Silver Star Program in Salinas. It’s one of about 75 community schools across California serving mostly students who have been expelled from regular high school or who are on probation. The goal is to give students more individual attention. Anastasia Gonzales notices the difference.
“They take care of you more. Their focus is on you, like they make sure you get your stuff done an d get it.”
Kids in Court May Be Facing Difficult Choices
Retired Judge John Phillips established the program about ten years ago. He sat on the bench for 21 years, often sending young people to prison for life he says. One day while covering juvenile court for a colleague out sick, he was coming down hard on a young man in violation of probation for missing school.
“And his mother stood up and said, “well judge, he can’t. My car is broken down.” And I said, “well he can walk to school like I did,” you know. “Well I don’t want him to get shot again walking to school.” I said, “shot again?” And they said, “yeah he got shot walking to school, because he had to walk through enemy territory.””
Realizing the kids who often end up in court face difficult everyday life choices, the judge created Rancho Cielo to help them get their high school diploma or GED. But it’s easier said than done. Though Silver Star serves 15 ½ to 18 year olds, teachers like Chris Devers have to incorporate multiple strategies with students whose proficiency levels range from third to twelfth grade.
“You’re integrating everything all at once. And it takes a long time to know how to select assignments that are going to work for every kid.”
A Setting to Take Kids Out of Hectic Lives.
Teacher Christian Lamonea likes to employ experiential learning often taking advantage of the ponds and hills on the 100 acre property they’re on – something he thinks helps the student s over all.
” But I think part of it is really is just getting out of the urban setting for students. And as a science teacher, nature, hills and its tranquility will prevail. It’s hard to be wound up in nature, you know.”
It’s also about making sure students are present and develop healthy habits.
” I think one of the great things that Silver Star, Rancho Cielo does is we pick the kids up, so truancy is really not an issue. We feed them a breakfast. We give them time to eat it. So now they have the energy regardless of what kind of home they come from.”
To deal with underlying issues that may lead to truancy or criminal behavior the school provides counseling for mental health and substance abuse. For Anastasia Gonzales the school has changed her point of view.
“Like I feel like I didn’t really have as much respect for people and here I feel like I have more respect. …usually I would feel dumb and stupid but here like I feel like I can be smart and I can be a better person.”
Comparable to studies about community-based interventions, about 33% of youth commit a new crime after one year of participating in Silver Star versus a 50-70% recidivism rate for incarceration. Ultimately, that’s the bottom line– creating more opportunities and keeping kids out of jail.