This article is a community submission by K. Wilson.
In August of 2015, I was asked by Berkeley County Schools to be the school representative for the Juvenile Drug Court in Berkeley County. It is my job to monitor attendance, discipline, and current grades of each one of our students enrolled in Berkeley County Juvenile Drug Court (BCJDC) and “do whatever it takes” to ensure that they are academically successful. I have personally scheduled tutoring, part time employment for the students, arranged community service when necessary, and I have even arranged for a student to be interviewed for the Milton Hershey School. On April 26th, we celebrated the graduation of our first two students from Juvenile Drug Court, and I could not be more proud of these young individuals. They are evidence that the program works and keep the BCJDC staff, 90% volunteers, motivated and encouraged.
So what is this drug court and how does it work? Good question. A student under 18 gets referred to BCJDC via the prosecutor’s office, school officials, or parents. They are tested weekly, They attend weekly individual therapy sessions as well as weekly court appearances. These students are held accountable. I know because I spend my Monday afternoons researching their current academic performance: how many unexcused tardies they had this week, how many assignments they are missing, how many referrals they received, and I report it. They are given consequences ranging from written essays, community service, or a few nights in Vicki Douglass Juvenile Detention Center. We have taken cell phones away, we have made them report to the Day Report Center in Martinsburg, and we make them provide us their work schedule. We are a nuisance to the student and an inconvenience to the parent (whom we also require attend the court and therapy session) and sometimes there is defiance and failure…..at first. After 8 clean urine screens, typically done weekly, students can move on to less restriction in Phase II where they report every other week. By this time they have become accustomed to my meddling in their school business, used to attending the therapy sessions, and the defiant behavior reduces dramatically. By Phase III, students are, arguably, model students; parents are pleasant, and the idea of touching any substance is far behind them. By this time they have a job, have a plan, and have accountability, all because a few adult volunteers gather every Tuesday night. Further, if the students carried any charges, there is a good chance that they could be dismissed and they can go into their futures with a clean slate.
Now I would like to describe what these students look like at the completion of BCJDC by describing our first two Berkeley County Juvenile Drug Court Graduates before the program and after. Names have been changed to protect anonymity.
In August of 2015 Mark was a junior at a local high school. Prior to being referred to BCJDC, Mark had used marijuana, had legal charges as a result of the marijuana use, run away from home, and had been placed in a treatment facility for adolescents. As a sophomore, he had 10 unexcused absences, 1.9 GPA, several suspensions, both in-school and out-of-school, and was behind his former classmates as he had failed a year of high school. As a result of running away, Mark was given a tracking bracelet and 60 hours of community service. Mark completed community service in September and the bracelet was removed. In September, Mark expressed to me his interest in graduating on time and was open to the prospect of “whatever it takes” to get there. I consulted with his counselor who informed me that it was possible, but extremely difficult, and would require evening classes the entire year with no absences. I am happy to report that Mark completed his entire junior year attending school from 7:30am-6:30pm with minimal absence and zero disciplinary referrals all while carrying a 3.7 GPA. He will indeed graduate on time with his class and has plans to attend community college in the fall. Because of his extreme turn around and determination, his charges have been dropped.
Sarah is a junior at a Berkeley County high school. Sarah’s mother died of a heroin overdose so when I met her in August of 2015, she was living with her father, who suffered from his own substance use issues as well as PTSD. There is no other family. Sarah also had criminal charges and had used marijuana. As a sophomore, Sarah also had several in-school and out-of-school suspensions for defiance and fighting, had over 10 unexcused absences, and had a 1.8 GPA. Her first semester as a junior, and Phase I student in BCJDC, she managed to get a 3.7 GPA on her report card, and has carried that GPA the entire year. She also has ZERO discipline referrals this year. She was one of 33% of her class to voluntarily take the PSAT as a junior and scored well. She also took the ASVAB for military consideration. In December of 2015, her father was arrested and is currently incarcerated. As a result, she is living in the custody of a family friend. Despite this, she continued to have perfect attendance, zero discipline issues, and kept that 3.7 for the 3rd 9 weeks. To date she has missed 1 day of school due to a medical appointment, has a couple of tardies due to missing the bus and walking to school. She is eligible for the Hidden Promise Scholarship at Glenville State University and plans to go there after she graduates. She also has a part time job and plans on entering the national guard, possibly this summer as a delayed entry soldier.
These are happy endings that would not be possible without the encouragement, patience, and determination of BCJDC volunteers. This is a great example of how powerful volunteers from Berkeley County can be in changing a student’s life. I write this to inform you that there are people out there who care about the future and want to change it and there are programs in place that may go unnoticed, but they work.
Photo Credit: Nicholas Trietsch