Juvenile Justice Measures Success, One Child at a Time

Thursday, June 28, 2018 - 2:33pm

Society today oftentimes judges programmatic success from data and trend lines, but when it comes to Juvenile Justice, focusing purely on analytics and spreadsheets makes it easy to forget the Section’s mission to intervene and shape tangible change in the lives of REAL people. Presenting young people with opportunities to experience confidence-building success helps reduce factors that create adult offenders out of North Carolina’s best resource – our children. Thus, taking time to recognize and acknowledge achievements made on the individual level is also an important part of measuring the impact and success of the Juvenile Justice Section.

Stonewall Jackson YDC Students Shine in State Mathematics Scholars Spotlight
Math Field Day award project descriptionsThe North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCCTM) sponsors three regional math fairs each spring, with the best projects at those events advancing to the State Math Fair. Working with facility mentors, educators and counselors (Dr. Monica Currie, Terrell Williams, Janet Dalton among others), the team from Stonewall Jackson YDC (SJYDC) competed scholastically with high school students from all 100 counties. This marked the second consecutive year a team from SJYDC entered competition, and their hard work was recognized. Projects submitted by the participants ranged in complexity, but each incorporated advanced mathematical theories to explore and solve realistic problems. The events draw the brightest young minds from around North Carolina, and the entire scholastic team at SJYDC tested their abilities, pushing themselves to experience the challenge of competing at this level. Each is a winner in that regard. The Western Regional competition (hosted by Appalachian State University) was the first opportunity for the team to display projects for judging.

Among the SJYDC team, two students excelled – claiming both first and third place in the regional contest. As such, their projects moved ahead to the state level competition (hosted by the N.C. School of Math and Science) in Durham, where they were judged against five other high school students. Via video conference, Jayden S. and Taten B. engaged with university professors (judges) to present and explain their projects personally, and when the dust settled, they claimed both second and third place for their efforts. For their hard work, the two scholars received several awards – from plaques and certificates to monetary awards – but greater is the knowledge and self-confidence each gained from achieving on such a high level.

Summer Camp Builds Character and Social Skills
Sunshine and breezes filtering through the trees while hiking in the woods. Kids running and screaming in the field during an epic game of dodgeball. Throwing your first ringer in the horseshoe pit. Learning to sail. Singing by the campfire. Perhaps your mind goes back to swimming, or canoeing around the lake. Even putting extra effort into cleaning your bunk so the cabin eats first and has less chores. Writing letters of thanks was definitely part of the week away from home. Whatever memories one might have tucked away, chances are the experience of attending summer camp had an impact on your development as a person. Sadly, many juvenile justice-involved youth won’t have memories such as these. But thanks to some generous (and anonymous) annual donations, 37 youths this year earned a week of experiences at Camp Willow Run, in northeastern North Carolina.

“[It’s] therapy for the souls of young people who need the opportunity to be kids,” stated one counselor when asked her thoughts about the camp. “Watching a child overcome fear is a wonderful thing to witness, but think about what it gives that young person. It offers self-confidence, a sense of accomplishment, or the chance to overcome reservations about themselves.”

The first week of June, juvenile justice-involved youths from around the state traveled to the shore of Lake Gaston to regain some of their childhood. The team at the Methodist-affiliated facility opens cabin (well, in this case, converted railway boxcar) doors, so these kids can experience camp just as any other child would. There is no mention of the past or their participation in the criminal justice system, because it doesn’t matter. “What matters is that these young people experience and develop critical skills for adulthood within the camp’s safe environment,” stated Angela Smith, assistant director of Juvenile Facility Operations. “The college-age staff/activities specialists are very well-trained and the kids respect, trust and bond with them in ways they can’t with adults or YDC counselors. It is a very healthy environment for affecting meaningful growth and change.”

The camp’s physical activities may come naturally to energetic young people, but the confidence exercises can present challenges. Finding the inner courage to step off a high ledge, scale a climbing wall or walk tree-to-tree on wire cables 20 feet into the canopy, is only one aspect of the week. Juveniles learning to trust that the person keeping them suspended by a rope/harness will not let them down (because being let-down may be a regular thing in their lives) is big. “I was ready to quit on the obstacle course, but was encouraged by staff to keep going. Life can make you want to quit but you have to keep going,” stated Jonas.

Campers learn to bond as a team and work together to achieve a goal. In addition to the tangible social skills, the week in a camp setting most certainly feels less taxing to the mind of a teen living a watched and monitored life. Chase reflected on his week, “There’s people out there to support us. It was nice to get out and have a mental break from YDC. It boosted my morale.” After all, this trip is a reward for doing what’s expected of them in the YDC, so it should illustrate that good behavior pays dividends.

Bolstering pride and affirming the successful achievements of North Carolina youth will help produce positive results more consistently. Those outcomes support the contemporary model of programming used by the Juvenile Justice Section, in its efforts to strengthen our communities statewide and reduce the number of juvenile offenders. Whether it’s helping children to excel in the classroom or to develop critical skills at summer camp, the entire Juvenile Justice team who help make celebrations like these possible should share in the accolades.

Matt Jenkins, Communications Officer