Story and photos by Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Office of Public and Employee Communications

The description of a May 14 event at a Johanna Boss High School simply states students “at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton will show academic growth and project-based learning methodologies, incorporating social and emotional themes in a Service Exhibition.”

The youth created outlines for new charitable organizations, laid out planned community construction projects, created superheroes as a computer design project and achieved fitness goals in the gymnasium — all to show what they’ve learned through practical applications. Beneath that, however, was a much deeper meaning – giving students the opportunity to be successful in an academic environment. For most of them, it was the first time they had such an experience.

Division of Juvenile Justice Director Chuck Supple attended as well as school principal Susan Harrower. Supple toured the various exhibits and asked questions of the students.

Troy Fennel, Superintendent of Education (A) for California Education Authority, said Exhibition Day is important for their rehabilitation. “For the students, it’s critical because it helps them understand they can be successful at school. For many of them it’s the first time they’ve ever had a positive demonstration of their knowledge,” Fennel said. “It gives them a sense of pride.”

Other than fences and youth correctional officers walking the halls, the school appears no different than any other. In one classroom, students greeted those who entered and gave a presentation on a charitable organization they’ve created. The plans included the mission, potential spokespeople and fundraising plans.

Kevin Lopez and Yalmar Pastora created a plan for World Savings, a charity designed to provide assistance after natural disasters or military conflicts. Their plan envisions a global organization with celebrities helping further the cause.

“It’s about helping the community, but not just here. It’s about helping communities around the world,” Lopez said.

“It’s about helping those who need food and clothes or other items,” said Pastora.

Tyrese Kerr’s charity project revolved around getting at-risk youth on the right path so they don’t end up in an institution.

“It’s called ‘Always Dream Big’ and it’s meant to support inner city teens at high risk that come from communities with drugs and gangs,” Kerr said.

He speaks from experience, having come from just such an area in South Central Los Angeles. “I’m trying to help them from going down the wrong path.”

Superintendent Fennel was impressed with the vision of Kerr’s organization.

“When you get to South Central L.A. and change the community, reach out to me and invite me down to see what you’ve accomplished,” Fennel told him.

Teacher Leena Phom excitedly discussed her students’ projects – using shapes to build and create. While it might appear to be an arts and crafts activity, it was actually geometry and mathematics. The students learned about determining how much material would be needed for such projects.

“We asked them to build a city using shapes so they understand the shapes and how they relate,” Phom said.

Jaime Chaney and Ali Sadrudeen proudly displayed their city, complete with parking areas and streets.

“It’s about finding the surface area, the net of the shape,” Chaney said.

Sadrudeen thought they could have done better but he was relieved they finished the project on time.

Miguel Perez merged a gated community concept with shopping, dining and entertainment, complete with campgrounds and rental units.

“This is a private community I built,” he said, pointing to some of the houses and empty lots designated for future development. “I built houses that I rent out. Over here are stores and restaurants. I would need to know the surface area to know how much wood I would need.”

In another room, students presented their Project Echo concept – a business geared toward the silver generation. Dubbed Palm Tree Health Club, the students said their business plan would cater to the booming older adults for health and fitness. On Sunday, May 5, the students spent nearly an hour on a conference call with judges in a competition.

“It’s like ‘Shark Tank’ where students pitch their ideas to sets of judges, about 15 minutes for each set,” Fennel said.

Student Isaiah Gomez said all the judges liked the concept and business plan. In 2015, a team from the school placed in the top 10 for the competition. This year, the team received special recognition (see separate story).

Meanwhile, in Margarito Franco’s Commercial Arts & Graphic Design class, students showed their concepts for superheroes, complete with positive motivating factors to the backstory of the hero, outlining the hero’s powers and an illustration. To combine all the elements into one comprehensive printable sheet of paper, Franco enlisted the help of student assistant Nathaniel Boyd.

“I asked him to create a template for the students to create their superhero that lists their powers and their community altruistic services,” teacher Franco said. “That’s all I requested. He did the rest.”

Boyd, who is a high school graduated, said he used Adobe applications to create the template, which was essentially a fusion of three elements. “I exported the template so it can be used to add text,” he said.

The gymnasium wasn’t excluded from the day’s exhibition as students demonstrated proper techniques for exercises. One of the students said he was interested in becoming a fitness trainer when he’s released.

Exhibition Day at the school was more than just city models, charities and business plans – what the students displayed was hope for the future and a plan for success upon reentry to the community.