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 Strengthening Futures for Students in Juvenile Detention

For some of the students in the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, it might be difficult for them to envision a bright future, but educators and Probation personnel are working together to make it easier for them with college and career fairs.

The fairs are held two or three times each year, giving students the chance to learn about career options, connect with potential employers, and talk with officials from local colleges.

"Many times, our students are not thinking about their future," said Site Administrator Nathan Head. "The college and career fair allows them to have access to resources and supports that gets them thinking about life and the future outside of the detention facility. We want to continue to foster those thoughts and feelings."

The educational program at the detention facility is operated by the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) as part of its Juvenile Court and Community Schools program. The county Probation Department oversees the other aspects of the facility.

At a college and career fair at the facility in February, students were able to learn about careers directly from representatives from local automotive, construction, culinary arts, and healthcare employers as well as find out about local community colleges, other continuing education programs, and community agencies.  

"Presenting opportunities for these youth who may not otherwise know what is out there is extremely important," said Supervisor Probation Officer Matt McKnight. "Now they've met someone from a program and have a form with dates and a contact phone number to call in that next stage of their life."

SDCOE employees work with the students during the fairs to help them connect with appropriate resources and programs. The students also get to practice soft skills such as listening, communicating, and body language. Students have been very receptive and appreciative of the opportunities presented at the fairs, said Stephanie Johnston Austin, Support Services Supervisor with SDCOE.

"It's clear from the feedback that events like this are critical to making sure our students understand the broad range of programs and opportunities that are available throughout San Diego County," Johnston Austin said. "It's a total team effort."

The next college and career fair at the East Mesa facility will be May 17.

"As educators, we need to do all that we can to remove obstacles and provide all of our students with what they need to be successful in life," said Dr. Paul Gothold, San Diego County superintendent of schools.

County Board of Education President Guadalupe González agreed.

"It's always great to be able to partner with other organizations in the community to expand opportunities for the students we serve," she said.