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New Youth Transition Campus Offers Expanded Educational Opportunities

The new Youth Transition Campus is a place where a student can feel like a student. It looks like a comprehensive high school or charter school campus, with modern facilities, upgraded technology, and grass and open space.

The facility is replacing the existing Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility and students have already started relocating to the new site.  

Located within the new campus is the San Diego SOAR Academy, one of SDCOE’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS). With additional space and upgraded facilities, JCCS will be able to offer more rigorous educational opportunities and a richer curriculum to students.

The school will have a dedicated physical education teacher, a library based on reading levels, a numeracy lab to help students in mathematics, art classes, and access to microscopes for use in class, among other things. A chef’s kitchen and dedicated classroom spaces for graphic design and woodworking will help prepare students with skills for their future. 

Art Cruz, who teaches at the school, is excited about the dedicated arts and drama programs. 

“I think it’s recognized that the arts, in many forms, contribute to our students’ growth and healing,” Cruz said. “Our students are searching for avenues of self-expression and recognition. We have a real opportunity to help them discover how to express themselves in healthy and constructive ways.”

Planning for the rebuild, which started nearly four years ago, included focusing on the facilities but also an overhaul of the county’s juvenile justice system and intake process for new students.

“We realized at the time that our current system, which included facilities, food, how we treat kids, and educational offerings, was not following best practices and not meeting the needs of our students,” said Tracy Thompson, executive director for JCCS.

During this time, the San Diego County Probation Department, along with SDCOE and juvenile justice partners, worked with national experts from Georgetown University's National Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and the Council of Juvenile Justice Administrators to align the operational approach and facility design using the Youth In Custody Practice Model. Some facets of the model include creating safe and healthy facility environments, engaging youth and families, delivering high-quality, facility-based education, programming, health services, and effectively motivating positive youth behavior.

“We’re really excited to build strong working relationships with probation and behavioral health in order to provide wrap-around services for our students,” SOAR Academy Principal Joanne L. Finney said. “We want the students to know we’re here to help them as they earn the credits they need to graduate as well as participate in career-technical education courses.”

Throughout the process, SDCOE provided input on the educational programming and what facilities were needed to support the effort.

“Our vision at SDCOE is about equity and access,” Thompson said. “ Regardless of where our kids are, we truly believe that every child should have opportunities and access to things they desire to have in life.”  

That vision is brought to life in the new SOAR Academy complex, which has four buildings that house the administration, classrooms, career technical education, and gym. Additional features include:

Two CTE classrooms. The CTE programs will include building and construction, and graphic arts. In the future, other CTE courses may include information and communication technology, and horticulture

  • Culinary arts classroom
  • Library
  • Performing arts class and stage
  • Gymnasium with full CIF regulation basketball/volleyball court and a weight room
  • Multipurpose room
  • Amphitheater seating
  • Health and wellness center
  • Multiple cooling off/restorative conference areas
  • Multi-purpose track and field (later phase)
  • Multiple recreational courts, trees, and open areas

In conjunction with the new facility opening, changes were also made to several programs and procedures at both juvenile detention facilities. Youth intake will now occur at the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility and the majority of youth awaiting sentencing (pre-adjudicated) will be at East Mesa. This means for the first time, both girls and boys will be housed at East Mesa. Most of the youth, with some exceptions, who have been adjudicated will be at the Youth Transition Campus in Kearny Mesa. 

The County of San Diego, Probation, and other community partners hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new facility in January. Visit the County Newscenter’s story to learn more.


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