Article and photos by Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer

Many of California’s public schools have already opened their doors for the 2014-2015 school year, including the four Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities – N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility (YCF), O.H. Close YCF, Ventura YCF, and Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp.

The DJJ high schools and the California public schools have a lot in common. All high schools run by DJJ meet the same requirements and standards as any other high school in the state. All teachers are fully credentialed by the California Department of Teacher Credentialing.

The material may be the same, but there are a lot of differences.

Students in California public schools go to class 180 days of the year, while students in the four DJJ schools are in class 210 days. In DJJ high schools, 35 percent of the students are in a Special Education curriculum; in public schools 8 to 10 percent are considered “special needs.”

Also, 35 percent of DJJ students speak Spanish as their first language.

The language barrier combined with the large percentage considered “special needs” that means 70 percent of the students in DJJ schools require extra work to learn the same material.

To accommodate for these special learning needs, the student-to-teacher ratio in DJJ high schools is 18 to 1, compared to a 35 to 1 ratio in California’s public schools.

Pat Davies, Principal at N.A. Chaderjian High School, has been a teacher or administrator at N.A. Chaderjian for 19 years. She says she can’t imagine being anywhere else.

“I see real change happening here, our youth are really learning,” she said.

She’s especially proud of the Integrated Behavior Treatment Model (IBTM) that is being taught throughout DJJ schools. IBTM works to enhance student learning in problem-solving.

The student will talk about the problem with a teacher, then the student will role play it and practice what they’ve learned to show they get the concept and what it means in everyday life.

Summer time is not wasted time at DJJ. It’s a chance for the teaching assistants to archive information that has been taught and learned throughout the previous school year.

It’s also a valuable time for teaching assistants to work with students with Special Education needs who lag far behind in basic skills like reading and writing.

In the summer the teaching assistants work one-on-one, or in very small groups, to help students catch up.

Students spend the summers much like any other high school student – swimming (in the N.A. Chaderjian pool), playing sports and games, or in the case of students at Ventura YCF, competing in the Summer Olympics.

“Their days are very full, and it’s up to the various housing administrators to make sure they stay busy and their summer days are constructive days,” said Davies, the N.A. Chaderjian principal.

As for this new school year, Davies says she’s very excited about the new school books that have come in. The teachers at the four schools have already collaborated to develop a syllabus with the new information.

For the first time in DJJ, a Youth Advisory Council has been established, which functions like a student council at any other high school. There are seven to 12 youth on the council who have been elected by their peers and must be approved by four adults who work at N.A. Chaderjian.

The final decision on the youth selected for the Youth Advisory Council is still being determined.  But for the 13 youthful offenders who applied, this is a big stepping stone in developing leadership, accountability, team work, and problem-solving even if it is behind a secure fence.

Those elected will tackle school and facility-related issues, put their problem solving skills to work and try to make DJJ a better place to live and go to school.

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