A Circle of Trust: The Story of the See Forever School
James Forman Jr.
Yale University - Law School
University of Maryland
November 13, 2011
STARTING UP: NEW SCHOOLS IN NEW TIMES, Marv Hoffman, Lisa Arrastia, eds., Teachers College Press, 2011
Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 238
The term 'school to prison pipeline' describes a set of policies, practices and institutions that push young people (especially those who are poor, or of color) out of school and into the juvenile and adult criminal systems. Alternative schools - to which students are often sent if they are suspended, expelled or arrested - can constitute a critical piece of the pipeline. If these alternative schools are high-quality, they can provide an opportunity for individual transformation. Too often, however, they are little more than way-stations, where teenagers spend a few weeks or months before being expelled or arrested again.
In this Essay, we describe an effort to counter the trend of under-performing alternative schools. We tell the story of the See Forever School in Washington, D.C., an alternative school designed to meet young people where they are, while providing a pathway to a more promising future. We first describe our history - how, as two young lawyers working with teens in the city, we were appalled by the absence of decent educational opportunities for young people who had been arrested or kicked out of school. We then discuss our efforts to design a rigorous and relevant curriculum for a student body of African-American teens with great potential but low academic skills. We also address school climate and our attempts to create a safe school without resort to zero tolerance measures.
Although our school succeeded, the road was bumpy, and we describe mistakes and the lessons we learned from them. Through narrating the story of the disappointments and successes of the founding year of the school - now known as the Maya Angelou Public Charter School - we hope to provide a proof point that successful alternative schools are possible. By describing our particular approach in detail, we also hope to provide insights into how to develop such a school.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 25
Keywords: school to prison pipeline, zero tolerance, alternative schools, juvenile justice, education, raceAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: November 14, 2011
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