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Federal grant will help incarcerated youth start learning a trade

The $945K grant was one of four awarded nationwide. Five CTE tracks will be available.

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Students in the criminal justice system will be able to learn a trade and get help with the transition back to school or work due to a new $945,000 federal grant.

Philadelphia was one of four cities to receive the award from the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth. The program will allow the District to expose students in the Juvenile Justice Services Center and Pennypack House to five different career and technical education tracks. 

Students in these centers have been charged with crimes as juveniles, and those in Pennypack House have been charged as adults and are awaiting adjudication. 

"This is an opportunity to get these students excited about different types of learning," said Christina Grant, assistant superintendent in charge of the District's Opportunity Network of alternative schools, which includes these two facilities.

It is the first time, she said, that the District has been able to introduce career and technical education into these centers, because of restrictions inside detention facilities, including the prevention of full access to the internet and the presence of certain tools and machinery.

"That's why this is exciting. We are able to give students real-world learning experiences in a confined environment," Grant said. "That has always been the challenge."

In addition, the young people will have access to guidance, career counseling, and other services upon their release and re-entry into society.

The project will reach about 825 students over three years, starting in September, Grant said. The students at the Juvenile Justice Service Center and Pennypack House cycle in and out rapidly, spending an average of 25 days at those sites. 

Due to restrictions on what materials can be brought into a placement facility, each student will get a kit with the materials needed to learn a trade. The tracks being offered are: green technology, network cabling-fiber-optics-based systems, introduction to telecommunications and technology, introduction to home entertainment (audio and video), and energy management systems.

For each of these specialties, students can earn a credential in three weeks. Upon release, students will be counseled to enter high schools that offer a full course in the specialty they chose.

"This initiative will allow the School District to create innovative opportunities for students who face hard challenges," said Superintendent William Hite in a statement. "CTE programs have been successful in re-connecting students who have left school, and we plan to provide the same chance for success to students in court-ordered placements." 

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Dale Mezzacappa

@dalemezz
Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.