Keeping Kids in School and Staying Out of Trouble: Pilot Program Tested in Oakland Schools Shows Success

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) – A new intervention being tested in Oakland Unified Schools shows promise in keeping students in school and out of the justice system.

The intervention by researchers at Stanford University aims to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. Initial results show that the program has been incredibly effective in reducing recidivism.

ABC7 News recently launched The Equity Report, an interactive tool viewers can use to examine inequalities in five key categories where they live: housing, health, policing, the environment and education.

When it comes to education, the tool found that black and Latin students in the Bay Area were much more disciplined than white students in the majority of school systems.

RELATED: 18 Times More Likely To Be Suspended: Bay Area Schools Struggle With Excessive Discipline

Now, there is a solution that can be as easy as listening, learning, and bonding through one-on-one mentoring.

“I need more one-on-one time. I don’t learn as fast as other kids.”

“I’m a serious person about school and graduation.”

These handwritten letters are filled with a simple request and basic information that a student wants the teacher to know about them.

VIDEO: How excessive school discipline against black girls leads to dropout, incarceration

Each letter is written by an OUSD student returning to school after being detained and spending time at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center.

“They said, basically, ‘I’m a good boy. I’m trying really hard, but it’s hard,” said Greg Walton, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Stanford University.

The letters are part of a Walton-led response to reduce the likelihood that middle and high school students will return to the juvenile room after release and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

“These kids are mostly African American boys, average 15 or 16 years old… it’s so easy to put them in a box,” Walton said.

Of the 172 detained OUSD students who returned to Oakland schools after being affected by the juvenile justice system from June 2020 to July 2021, 69% were black and 25% identified as Latino, according to the district.

RELATED: Pittsburg Unified Denied Constitutional Rights for Blacks, English Learners, and Students with Disabilities: Lawsuit

The intervention took place when the students returned to class.

It involved describing the dreams, goals and needs of the students and also listening to the stories of older children who were once in their place, but who were able to make a difference.

“I knew coming back from Juvie was going to be difficult. Sometimes I felt like if I made a mistake I would be back in jail. I knew I never wanted that,” one student said. older in a broadcast audio recording. for students benefiting from the intervention.

The students were then asked to nominate an adult from the school who could help them achieve their goals.

RELATED: Bay Area School District Struggles With Learning Loss Among Students Of Color And Low-Income Households

This educator, teacher or staff member then received a letter informing them that they had been asked for a special assignment.

“Did a student choose me?” Does anyone believe in what I’m doing? It is a life changing experience for teacher and student, ”said Hattie Tate, Youth Justice Coordinator at OUSD.

Tate said the results of this intervention were inspiring.

“They felt seen and heard like never before,” she said.

VIDEO: West Oakland air pollution disproportionately affects black and Latino residents, report finds

So how effective is it? Of those students who had their letter delivered to an adult in high school and began to receive one-on-one attention, less than a third had run into the juvenile justice system in the following semester.

Of those who did not start receiving this one-on-one support, two-thirds committed another offense and found themselves re-detained and in the juvenile justice system in the following semester.

“It’s about letting students know what they’re capable of … so they can see that everyone is making mistakes. But making a mistake doesn’t mean you’re wrong,” Tate said. .

LEARN MORE: Explore the Equity Report

She said these early results are proof that every child is worth fighting for and that changing a young life can be as easy as listening to them and meeting them where they are.

“The hope is that this kind of practice can become the thing we do when we take children into juvenile detention,” Walton said.

He points out that the initial study was small, involving just 47 middle and high school students.

However, given the early success of the intervention, the team is now working to expand the program to OUSD, the Unified School in San Francisco, and a school system in Sacramento.

Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All rights reserved.

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