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Troubled students benefit from diversion to crime program

Program connects troubled students with services that help them avoid crime, and jail or prison COMPTON — Simon had been suspended from Compton High School four times in the past two years. He has had attendance

Program connects troubled students with services that help them avoid crime, and jail or prison

COMPTON — Simon had been suspended from Compton High School four times in the past two years. He has had attendance issues since middle school and was often in trouble with school administrators for verbal clashes with teachers. He hit bottom at the end of 2014-15 when he was arrested by school police for vandalism.

“We cannot contribute to the prison pipeline, We need to identify those students who need this [diversion program]," said Micah Ali, vice president CUSD Board of Trustees.

“We cannot contribute to the prison pipeline, We need to identify those students who need this [diversion program],” said Micah Ali, vice president CUSD Board of Trustees.

Simon is a composite of a few students that have benefitted from an innovative diversion program at CUSD, in partnership with Centinela Youth Services (CYS), that seeks to connect troubled students with services that provide them an avenue to turn things around and avoid a criminal record.

The program is being championed by Satra Zurita, Board of Trustees president; and Micah Ali, vice president.

“We know that many of our ‘problem’ students are acting out because of serious challenges they’re dealing with that we don’t know about – challenges we can help them with if we can get to them in time,” said Zurita.

Instead of expelling, or worse, arresting and prosecuting students, the program seeks to identify students that are acting out personal problems or problems at home, and find alternative punishment and, whenever possible, restitution. It’s called “restorative justice” and it is increasingly being used by school districts, particularly those with high concentrations of students of color.

Simon’s behavior was linked to his ill mother, who he had been caring for, coupled with the possibility of losing their apartment. Confronted with the burden of caregiver and the prospect of homelessness, Simon turned to marijuana to cope with stress and depression.

According to school counselors, Simon took out his frustration and anger on school property on a night out with friends.

“We cannot contribute to the prison pipeline,” Ali said. “We need to identify those students who need this help while at the same time, continue to ensure the safety of all of our students.”

Superintendent Darin Brawley says nobody is getting a “pass” at bad behavior, but acknowledged “sometimes [bad] behavior is masking severe emotional and psychological issues that must be addressed.”

As part of the CYS restorative justice program, Simon met with the teacher whose classroom he vandalized. He learned from the teacher how upset her students were at the damage they discovered the next morning and how it impacted them.

When Simon realized how his actions hurt his teacher and upset fellow students, he apologized.  To atone for his deed and to demonstrate his sincerity, Simon offered to volunteer to help the teacher with class prep after school and wrote a letter of apology to her and the class.

CYS officials provided the school board with a progress report, and the results were met with great enthusiasm by the board, administrators, and CUSD Police Chief William Wu.

“They give us an alternative that we didn’t have before that helps us improve student behavior and keep more of them in school,” Wu said.

The 47 students referred to the program since its inception have received nearly 600 hours of services, including mental health, credit recovery, job training, and internships to get back on track.

The approach to each student differs. Sometimes CYS offers victim/offender mediation where the offending student meets with the victim to find a solution. Other times, CYS mediates with students and their parents. The end result is students avoid a criminal record.

The case management is designed to solve the problem before a student ends up in greater trouble – or prison.

Simon’s case was a winning one. His mother was able to find housing support and medical care support. Simon enrolled in therapy and job training program and improved his grades significantly.

Current services are funded by a grant and there is no cost to families.

 

Compton Herald is a digital news publication providing clear, fair and current news, information and commentary about Compton, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Los Angeles County, California, and the world.

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