NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — Herman Hicks teaches finance at the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center on his own time. He is a banker by day that volunteers to offer a curriculum that falls outside the Metro Public Schools usual course work.
“If you could be anything in the world, what would you want to be?” Hicks asks a room of 12 students on a Wednesday morning.
Hicks is a volunteer, but the detention facility has four full time teachers, one of which is devoted to special education and individualized learning plans.
“To see a student go from not being too interested in school to where they buy in and we get that back on track for graduation or GED, that is the most rewarding part,” said Principal Cortelius Holmes.
Inside the detention center, everyone goes to school seven hours a day, and they pick up where they left off in Metro schools. The facility gets their records from the school district, so they do not fall behind. A company called Chance Light runs the classes.
“What we really try to do is focus on the child rather than the charge,” says Ralph Thompson of Chance Light.
That is part of the secret sauce here. Focusing on the individual child, developing personalized learning plans, and connecting with them on a level that far exceeds what they grow accustomed to in public schools.
“I think very hard,” facility director Antonio Bratcher says when asked about the difficulty of connecting with some of the detained students, “…because a majority of these kids have already been told they’re not going to be anything in life, already being told how dumb they are.”
Children can even graduate in the facility with a cap and gown just like they would have on the outside.
One graduated, 18-year-old detainee says, “I gained an interest in books here, and I ended up graduating from here because every book I read, it changed by mentality little by little. I just learned education is a better way to go. A lot of kids here they don’t see the real consequences.”
That statement might be enough to make any teacher smile: the realization that education is the better way to go than crime.
We spoke with two would-be seniors from local high schools, one boy and one girl, that are currently detained for serious crimes. Their lives went awry enough that their cases could impact years of their lives. But on the inside of the detention facility, they’ve found hope and an environment conducive to learning.
“It’s a hard environment to learn in cause there’s a whole lot of disruptions,” one said of his public high school. “It’s been very valuable because you can still graduate and get your diploma.”
“I didn’t like school; I just get more one on one attention here,” the other said.
Those are the types of comments that programs director Yolanda Hockett loves to hear. As she puts it, “We want to expose them to as much as possible, so they can make the right decision.”
Core classes here are mixed with electives. The teachers and reaction of the students provide a sign of hope for Nashville’s youth. However, apathy toward school on the outside is a significant reason the facility is nearly full. School in detention should not be the best education a child has ever received.
“Sometimes those people when they’re in the juvenile system, care more about those kids than some people in their families,” says Rep. Vincent Dixie of Nashville.
Dixie sits on the state house’s Education Committee, and he has more failing schools in his district than nearly any other legislator. He stresses the need for adapting ways teachers are taught.
“The methods haven’t changed, and if the methods haven’t changed, from the teachers that I’ve talked with, a lot of them said they didn’t feel prepared to enter the workforce,” Dixie said.
Unfortunately, Davidson County is unique. Elsewhere in Tennessee, some detention facilities do not offer school at all. They fall behind in school, and many will say, that makes more career criminals than reformed citizens.