A hard-won graduation success — after 3 detention camps, 5 probation officers and seemingly no chance
Mike Szymanski | June 10, 2016
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He couldn’t imagine he would ever graduate from high school, or that he’d ever even have a chance. After being released from his second juvenile detention camp, Randy Dwayne May Jr. wasn’t sure what he was going to do.
Then came a knock on his door over the summer from Wendy Cholico, a Pupil Services and Attendance counselor from LA Unified’s Juvenile Hall/Camp Returnee Program which started at the district two years ago and is being expanded this August. The program follows up on students who have gone into the probation system and helps reintegrate them back into a school community—and get them a high school diploma.
Randy had already turned 18 and felt like it may be too late. He said, “I wasn’t sure if I was welcomed back at school.”
Cholico recalled, “His dad was so excited. He was at home, it was the middle of summer and they were not sure where he would enroll.” She checked with his former school. “His parents took him the next day to school,” she said. “They were always expecting him back.”
The counselor added, “It’s truly been an honor to assist Randy through the program. We got involved with him when he was released from the second camp and went to a third camp.”
This week, Randy is graduating from William J. Johnston Community Day School in San Pedro. “I am proud to be graduating,” he said.
It was in 9th and 10th grades at Carson High School that Randy first ran into trouble. He said, “I had some behavioral problems and was ditching [school].”
After a few months, he was assigned to Camp Kilpatrick on a burglary charge, and that lasted about eight months. Then he was assigned to Joseph Paige Juvenile Camp because of a probation violation. Another probation violation landed him in Camp Returnee where he connected with the LA Unified team of counselors.
“I remember a time when I saw five different judges and had five different probation officers, it was crazy,” Randy said when he spoke to the Successful School Climate Progressive Discipline & Safety Committee in April. He later said speaking about his school troubles in front of the committee was “one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.” But he had his counselors, Cholico and Michael Hinckley from LA Unified, at his side.
“I feel supported and safe,” Randy said. “It’s good to have people concerned about me and even go to my house to see how I’m doing.”
When Randy slipped up a third time, Hinckley set up meetings with Randy and his family to get them all involved. The counselors provide services to students who are in danger of educational failure.
“Looking back, it was the bad influences in my neighborhood that got me making bad choices,” Randy said. “People who were supposed to be my friends just weren’t looking out for me.”
Randy said, “Mr. Hinckley helped me get back into school, and my parents got a call from him again to check in on me. We talked about going to a job fair and staying on the right path.”
Hinckley said, “We talked about Randy being resilient and have to give him full credit for what he accomplished, going back to school after he turned 18 and continuing to strive to get a high school diploma. I give full credit to Randy.”
Jesus Corral, the senior director of the Los Angeles County Probation Department, said success stories like Randy’s are becoming more common because of the youth transitioning model that is being developed at LA Unified. “This is helping exiting youths from camp and reintegrating them with their schools,” Corral said. “We are stabilizing youths and having them transition back in whatever the best setting there is for their success.”
Corral said more than half of the youth in the juvenile camps are from LA Unified schools and they are providing transportation and job training to eliminate as many barriers as they can to help with their education. He said the program is being replicated throughout the country at other school districts.
For Randy, the program helped get him to graduation; something he thought was elusive only a few months ago. He has been out of a camp since last November.
“That’s the longest I’ve been out of camp for a while,” Randy said. At graduation, his family and his counselors all attended. The counselors are going to help him enroll in Los Angeles Harbor College. He is thinking about going into the military.
“And then I want to go to college to be a probation officer,” he said.