Two San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) teachers were recently honored by the Juvenile Justice Commission for their work to support students with severe trauma in the Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility.
Ellen De La Cruz and Martha Jordan received the award at the commission's Sixth Annual Community Recognition Ceremony at Jacob's Center.
They work with about 20 boys in the Trauma Responsive Unit at the detention facility. The classroom is part of SDCOE's Juvenile Court and Community Schools program.
Both teachers inspire their students to believe in themselves and their own successes, Principal Joanne Finney said.
"They encourage each student to have the courage to continue his education, by instilling in him the value of education," Finney said. "When their students recognize the value of education, they achieve their goals and desires for their future."
In the Trauma Responsive Unit, students get a variety of extra supports in and out of the classroom to help them cope with severe trauma from their past.
"This unit is more of a calm environment," one student said. "This place helps you calm down and see things differently. They want to help you, and they want to make you feel better."
The experience in the unit focuses on reducing the fight or flight instinct in students who have suffered trauma by offering them extra incentives, a more therapeutic environment, guest speakers, and more opportunities for self-expression.
Students in the unit have gotten the opportunity to take yoga classes, play guitar, learn about mindfulness, create art, participate in pet therapy, and write poetry.
Most students stay in the unit for about a month, though some can stay longer if they continue to need the extra services.
The unit started in 2016. It's believed to be the first of its kind in California. What's happening in the unit is making a positive difference for students, De La Cruz said.
"It's a good feeling to see them using the tools and growing and developing," she said.
The Juvenile Justice Commission of San Diego County is a state-mandated, court-appointed citizens' commission. Its purpose is to inquire into the administration of juvenile court law in San Diego County, to provide leadership for citizen action and to promote an effective juvenile justice system operated in an environment of credibility, dignity, fairness, and respect for the youth of San Diego County.
SDCOE's Juvenile Court and Community Schools program educates nearly 5,000 students each year who are either wards of the court or have been referred by social services, Probation, or one of the county's 42 school districts. Services are provided at more than 20 sites across the county to students who are incarcerated, pregnant or parenting, in foster care, expelled, chronically truant, in drug treatment centers and group homes for neglected or abused children, and experiencing homelessness.