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Story and photos by Ike Dodson, PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications

STOCKTON — Michael Coon approached a wall of illustrations inside Stefania Akinaka’s high school art class at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility (NAC) on March 23 and fluidly demonstrated comprehension of a classroom project revealing impacts of the Industrial Revolution.

He paused when pointing at a diagram of factory pollution and recollected images of steam billowing from smokestacks in the Santa Rosa neighborhood where he grew up.

Even 100 miles from home, the 18-year-old youthful offender can’t escape his past. It’s why he’s incarcerated, and part of what makes his educational experience so unusual.

The Industrial Revolution project, part of a Road To Success Academy (RTSA) student-centered thematic showcase, gave students an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned while incarcerated in one of three Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities.

A team of DJJ administrators and teachers followed students from class to class at NAC and O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility as they broke down aspects of manufacturing processes developed in Unites States during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Coon seemed to focus on the negative impacts of this growth as it relates to his own childhood.

“You have a lot of stuff being made in these factories, but that can cause death to a lot of things around them,” He explained. “There were a lot of factories where I lived, and I know this pollution could be happening.

“So it makes me wonder if sulfuric acid and nitrogen dioxide was being released into the air.”

Coon’s experience in the project varied from that of his peers. His classmate, Paphanghorn Pholboonpanya, focused on explaining the advancements in transportation and medicine.

A distinctive takeaway and the ability to teach others is what makes the program so successful.

“I especially like what we are doing here in the RTSA program because the student becomes the teacher and the expert,” NAC High School Principal Dr. Pat Davies said. “It develops their skills as well as their confidence among their peers to be able to teach each other.”

“When youth can teach others, they’ve learned at the 95 percent level, which is really high.”

Dr. Davies said students in the RTSA program will use the project-based learning philosophy to push the research in their own particular direction.

“Whichever direction they take it and whatever the subject, the peripheral knowledge that comes in as they develop these projects is huge,”Dr. Davies said. “We’ve tried to push project-based learning to our youth and we’ve tried to encourage them.”

“They like to come in with something interesting to work on.”

Dr. Davies, Mary B. Perry High School Principal (Ventura Youth Correctional Facility; Martin Griffin, NACHS Mentor Teacher Dan Miniaci; and DJJ Superintendent of Education Troy Fennel followed the group of project presenters March 23.

Mary B. Perry High School staff was part of the Local Education Agency-wide team of educators who developed the RTSA unit and Griffin has been the LEA administrator facilitating the implementation of RTSA at CDCR. Griffin asked the Stockton students a few analytical questions as they explained different elements of their project.

“Discovery is the overall theme and we centralized that with the Industrial Revolution, since social studies touches all of our subjects,” Griffin said. “It’s a thematic, interdisciplinary, project-based instructional model which DJJ is piloting.

“This is a mode of teaching that allows students to personalize their learning. One of the goals of the program and the methodology is to make sure the students take what they’re learning in all the subject areas, based on the central theme of education as a unit, and find how it relates to their personal lives.”

Teachers at NAC say it’s been a big success.

“I’ve seen their attitudes improve quite a bit because it allows them to be creative,” Miniaci said. “They are included in the process of developing the lesson and they determine where they are going to go with the project.”

“They own it, they get involved and they are proud of it. Once you empower them and they understand that they can learn that they are smart and that they can do schoolwork successfully, then it just opens up the door for education. It helps them turn a corner.”

The RTSA program was developed at core schools with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, and is now being crafted into DJJ curriculum. The March 23 showcase of student projects on the Industrial Revolution was an intrepid look at the future, while acknowledging the impact of the past.