June is a traditional month for cap and gown celebrations and it is just as true for youth in the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

In recent weeks, 68 youth offenders reached a significant milestone in their efforts to turn their lives around by receiving either a high school diploma or a GED.

The graduation days were also opportunities for the youth to share their success with family members, many of whom attended luncheons prior to the afternoon ceremonies.

“An education is critical to building a level of confidence for youth and their ability to go back into the community and be successful,” said Mike Minor, superintendent of both the N.A. Chaderjian and O.H. Close youth correctional facilities in Stockton where the graduations took place.

Jonathan Cooper is one graduate who took that philosophy to heart. “You can turn your life around and this place (DJJ) is not a dead end,” he said, wearing his cap and gown as his mother stood very proudly by his side. “You just have to be independent and in the mind frame of wanting to succeed in life.”

A distinguishing factor for the DJJ is its network of accredited high schools that provide students with the same education they would receive in their communities, including special education. Those standards ensure that DJJ youth are in their classrooms for the state-mandated 240 minutes a day for 210 days a year. The N.A. Chaderjian High School recently had its accreditation renewed by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

Since March, 2005, when DJJ adopted a remedial plan for education, approximately 5,200 youth have achieved some form of academic performance, from high school diplomas or GED’s to enrollment in vocational or continuing education classes.
In addition, last year, 283 youth, 50 percent of those eligible, enrolled in college courses, taking advantage of long distance classes offered by Coastline College