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Published on Jun 8, 2010
Skeptics often dismiss juvenile offenders, saying it's "too late for them," but James Forman, Jr., and David Domenici know better. They know the juvenile justice system can do better with at-risk, poverty-stricken minority youth.
So they created a school just for them, the Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings Youth Development Center.
Domenici said the average kid at New Beginnings is 16, has three high school credits and functions at the 4th or 5th grade level. His mentality is that it's not too late for these kids, there's just more to catch up on—socially and academically—to break the cycle of recidivism.
A sign on the wall at New Beginnings bears a Victor Hugo quote: He who opens a school closes a prison. It couldn't be more apt.
"Our goal is to get them the skills they need, and in a sense, bolster them, so when they leave here, they'll try to get some traction at living a different life and making significantly different decisions," Domenici said.
Terrell Townsend was 15 when he entered New Beginnings, and would spend 8 months there, progressing through the six levels, but not without bumps in the road. He had to learn to control his anger, respect authority and regain a love of learning. He did all of these things, and he is now doing well at Maya Angelou's Evans campus, though there have been a few hiccups.
Nonetheless, "you see him on the cusp of getting traction at another school," says Domenici.
Indeed, Terrell's been out of New Beginnings for less than seven months, so it's hard to make long-term predictions about his trajectory. Is he fully "reformed"? Terrell says he's on a good path, and his counselor Troy Waller agrees, adding that Terrell's transition has been outstanding.