Summer School at Chelan County Juvenile Center

Photo Above: Toby Johnson, a seventh-grade teacher at Foothills Middle School, spends four weeks of his summer teaching summer school at the Chelan County Juvenile Center. Teaching the youths there is an opportunity to make a big difference in a youth’s life, he said recently.

Photo Below: A student in the summer class drops a parachute and egg from a stairway of the detention facility. Teachers at the center’s summer program embrace a hands-on teaching style with the students, focusing on problem-solving activities, teamwork and adapting to individual learning styles.


Teacher: ‘This job has the potential to make a huge difference’

The word of the day in Toby Johnson’s summer classroom was “indomitable.”

“Can you name someone in life who has an indomitable spirit – where no matter what happens, they keep going and going?” asked Johnson to the summer class at the Chelan County Juvenile Center.

The students and Johnson tossed out names like Oprah, Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr. They mentioned Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill. All of us will have to decide at some time to give up or keep going when faced with an obstacle in our lives, Johnson explained.

“I think that is so powerful, to have an indomitable spirit where nothing will stop you,” he said to his teenage listeners. “We want to be those people who no matter what happens to us, we keep on going.”

Summer school at the Chelan County Juvenile Center wrapped up in mid-August. Youths housed at the facility attend summer school, which is offered for eight weeks each year, five days a week for about five hours a day.

While state laws require that an education be provided to young people housed in detention centers during the school year, summer school isn’t something centers are required to do, explained Emilio Iniguez, detention manager. But the administration at Chelan County’s center believes it’s what’s best for the young people living temporarily in the facility, Iniguez added.

“It’s another opportunity for us to have a positive impact on the kids in a classroom setting that is small and individualized,” he said. “And it gives them something to look forward to five days a week.”

Wenatchee School District teachers Johnson and Heidi Monroe, along with paraeducator Eric Kuntz, were the faces of summer school at the center this year. Kuntz is the newbie in the trio. A paraeducator at WestSide High School, this was his second summer teaching at the center. For Johnson and Monroe, the veteran teachers have a combined 26 years of experience teaching at the Chelan County facility. They split the summer schedule, both working four weeks in the classroom.

“Toby and I make a great team because we have different interests and teaching styles,” said Monroe, who taught full time at the juvenile center for five years before moving to WestSide High School 14 years ago.

During the summer, Monroe focuses on technology as well as Social and Emotional Learning, or the brain and its response to stress and resiliency. She may have students doing basic coding, creating stop-motion videos or films, or doing hands-on math projects.

For Johnson, the Foothills Middle School teacher focused on ancient Greece and mythology this summer. That included building bridges from craft sticks, dropping eggs from the stairways, creating and dressing in costumes, and learning about history and the arts.

Both teachers have a hands-on teaching style with the students, focusing on problem-solving activities, teamwork and adapting to individual learning styles.

“There is often a newfound excitement as they learn new things and feel the safety in the relationships they build with teachers and staff,” Monroe said of the students. “I don't know how many times we hear, ‘Wow, nobody has ever been able to teach me how to do that before.’ I know I'm explaining things basically the same way inside and outside the juvenile center, so the magic isn't in what I'm doing – it is where the student is emotionally to receive it.”

The center’s classroom is an easier atmosphere to learn in, said a 17-year-old male student who was at the juvenile center. The teachers don’t just hand out worksheets; they interact with you, he said. And he’s better able to focus in the center’s classroom versus a normal high school classroom.

“I don’t have the temptations of using while in here. I can actually pay attention. I more, like, slept in class (during the school year),” said the student. “And Toby has a way of making things stick. You never know what the day is going to bring with Toby.”

Teaching at the center requires some adaptions, the teachers said. At WestSide, because he’s with the students all year, he has more time to build a relationship with them, Kuntz said. In summer school at the center, that time is shortened; he has about two to three weeks to build a relationship with students.

“Relationships of trust and support are built much faster at the juvenile center. What takes months in a traditional school can be made in just days at the center,” Monroe agreed. “I love seeing youth out in the public. When you see a kid you met at the juvenile center, they are excited to see you and tell you really how they are doing: ‘I've been clean for __ days,’ ‘I just moved to a new foster home,’ ‘I just got out of treatment.’ This shows that the trust built in the juvenile center sticks with them. We can have a positive impact on a kid’s life even if you only have them in class a few days.”

At the center, teachers also can’t count on seeing a student the next day, because some will be released. They may have five students in their class one day, and one the next.

“Students come and go so randomly that each day's activities need to be adaptable so lessons feel complete,” Monroe said. “I will often carry on themes but have lessons that can begin and end in a day.”

The teachers also said they have more creativity working in the center’s summer classroom. The regular school year brings many “have-tos,” Johnson said. At the center, he can take his curriculum from the school year and focus on activities and games – things that will resonate with the students.

And the center’s summer school is where they can make a big impact on a youth who may need it the most, the teachers said.

Kuntz said he enjoys watching the kids be successful in a loving and caring environment. “They are making the best of what they have and they want to learn to be better people,” he said.

“I really believe this job has the potential to make a huge difference,” Johnson said. “This is the place where I get to try to inspire.”

“I strongly believe that all kids are good kids. I believe everyone would behave if they were able to navigate their circumstances and needs to get their needs met in a way that didn't cause a problem. Behavior is just needs being met incorrectly,” Monroe said. “When kids are sitting in a juvenile center classroom, all outside pretenses are gone. Their systems are clean and there are very clear boundaries and rewards that kids know, understand and are willing to follow.

“This means that when we are sitting in the classroom, I get to see the real kid. Not a kid who is trying to look cool, hide a weakness, manage pressure of peers or life. They know they are safe, they are cared for and seen. That makes all the difference in the world. Being part of that feeds me as a teacher.”

The Chelan County Juvenile Center is a county agency responsible for providing juvenile detention, probation and court support services in offender and civil cases.  All criminal cases are referred by area law enforcement agencies to be screened in conjunction with the Prosecutor’s Office and scheduled for court hearings or diversion. Civil matters are referred to an in-house, non-offender programs coordinator, who oversees cases from referral to resolution. The belief that youths and families can change for the better in order to reach their full potential, while holding youth accountable and providing access to treatment opportunities, upholds the valuable work accomplished by this agency.

Last Updated: 08/22/2022 08:58 AM

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