How society should handle youth offenders

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How society should handle youth offenders

In the last 9 years I’ve been working in the area of juvenile justice, and particularly with boys 14 to 18 year old who’ve been locked up in these incarceration facilities for 3, 6, 9 months depending on what their offense was. The main challenge with these young men is to get them to believe in themselves and to believe that they actually have a future. Many of them have a sense of hopelessness – their neighborhoods are violent, they’ve all had family members or friends who have been killed and they don’t believe that they have much of a future, number one. And number two, they don’t see education as an avenue to anything of any particular importance in their lives. So what we’ve tried to do in this camp that we work in is to bring the kinds of elective courses to them that they would get if they went to a really good, private school. So we have classes in journalism and filmmaking, and creative writing, writing rap, poetry; they have a camp newspaper that they do, visual arts classes. And we try to get them excited about something in education for the first time in their lives. Then when they leave the camp comes the bigger challenge and that is to try and place them in something different than just drifting back into the neighborhood, rejoining the gang and getting in trouble again. So getting them excited about learning, getting them to believe in themselves and then when they leave the camp, trying to redirect them into something more productive and more positive. And it works. It works – I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Just a little bit of encouragement, a little bit of affection along the way, a little bit of kindness and these kids can – many of them – can do all sorts of wonderful things. They just haven’t had that.
TEEN, Parenting Teens, At Risk Youth

View Paul Cummins, PhD's video on How society should handle youth offenders...


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Paul Cummins, PhD

Educator & Author

Dr. Paul Cummins, President and CEO of Coalition for Engaged Education (CEE), received his bachelor of arts from Stanford University, his MAT from Harvard, and his doctorate from the University of Southern California.  In 1971, he co-founded Crossroads School in Santa Monica and built it into one of Los Angeles’s most successful educational institutions and a national model for innovative, independent schools. 

In 1995, Cummins stepped down as Headmaster of Crossroads and formed New Visions Foundation (now Coalition for Engaged Education) to offer opportunities for Engaged Education to all youth. The first venture was New Roads School, a diverse, K-12 independent school in Santa Monica that has a deep commitment to social justice. New Roads devotes 40% of its tuition budget to need-based student financial aid, guaranteeing access to students from a wide socioeconomic array. Cummins has since implemented a number of innovative programs to help children at risk.

Cummins has published four books on education, including Proceed With Passion: Engaging Students in Meaningful Education (2004), and Two Americas, Two Educations: Funding Quality Schools for all Students (2007), both published by Red Hen Press. His most recent book of essays, Why Poetry? Reflections on Poetry, Writing and Culture, was published in 2009 by Xlibris, in addition to two volumes of his poetry and two children's books published in recent years. He is currently finishing Confessions of a Headmaster: My Pursuit of Joy and Justice in Education (forthcoming from Red Hen Press).

Cummins and his wife Mary Ann reside in Santa Monica. They have four daughters and five grandchildren.

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