Summer 2019: Camara’s Adventures in the Queen City | Part 6
This summer, I have intellectually and personally grown in ways I never thought I would. My experiences in Charlotte and at Council for Children’s Rights (CFCR), as a DukeEngage student and summer intern, have educated me more about my capabilities and purpose in this world. In this blog, I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude for the many opportunities I have had and the relationships I developed while here in Charlotte and at CFCR.
Initial Thoughts of CFCR
As mentioned in my first blog, I arrived in Charlotte to intern at CFCR after applying through DukeEngage. DukeEngage aims to provide Duke students internship opportunities at nonprofit organizations. The program in Charlotte, specifically, possesses a child, family, and education-policy focus, with Duke Students interning at organizations such as CFCR, Freedom School Partners, Guardian Ad Litem, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Community Support Services. These nonprofits intend to provide services and resources (e.g., housing support, legal and child advocacy, and summer reading loss prevention) for families and children who require extra guidance or aid. I applied to intern at CFCR because the organization’s core values resonate with me, and I intend on advocating for children throughout my life. In my hometown, I have witnessed several of my peers and relatives get involved in the justice system at very young ages. It is tiring to repeatedly see Black and Brown youth fall into the systemic cycle of disempowerment, impoverishment, desperation, and, then, incarceration. Changes in our communities and systems are necessary, and I desire to work with communities to help effect change through research, policy, and advocacy. I wanted to intern at CFCR because I knew my summer experience would support development of the necessary skills for me to become an effective advocate.
Before my first day at CFCR, I was extremely nervous about working full-time, being too socially awkward with my supervisor and staff, and the potential for procrastinating on work for my deliverables. CFCR immediately proved to me I was overthinking because the environment is extremely friendly, positive, and caring. Staff members genuinely care about one another and actively participate in after-work activities to strengthen their interpersonal relationships. I felt very comfortable in my surroundings much faster than usual. The positive environment permitted me to intellectually grow by learning about juvenile justice; the State of Our Children (SOOC) report and existing community opportunities; court proceedings; school-based referrals; city, county, and state government; and, school environment. My personal growth was moderate but my supervisor, Jaimelee, and the Director of Research and Policy, Emily, helped me become more confident in myself, and recognize my capabilities and potential.
Throughout the summer, I worked to complete two primary deliverables for CFCR: my weekly blog posts and a policy brief regarding School Justice Partnerships (SJPs). In addition, I conducted policy issue tracking by reading academic and news articles, legislative tracking and analysis for bills filed in the North Carolina General Assembly, and data entry related to the financial impacts of Raise the Age (RTA) legislation.
The weekly blogs have been reflections of what I have learned so far at CFCR and the observations I have made while in Charlotte. These observations are related to de- and re-segregation, disparity, and the necessary expansion of affordable housing. My favorite blog is Different Worlds, which describes Charlotte as another version of a tale of two cities: one city that is predominantly White and affluent, and the other predominantly of color and working class. The difference in living conditions and environments between the two cities was baffling to me because I was so used to racial and socioeconomic homogeneity within cities, while I saw visible disparities as existing between cities. The SOOC Report was very useful to the development of that blog because it provides policy opportunities that would mitigate the effects of systemic racism, such as establishing youth forums to enhance social capital, and adequately and equitably funding public schools.
The bulk of my time this summer has been dedicated to the second deliverable: a policy brief about School Justice Partnerships (SJPs) and School Safety. In the past, CFCR has released products concerning school discipline and alternatives to exclusionary practices. The SJP policy brief builds on previous work by taking a strengths-based approach to examine school environment, school safety (the umbrella under which school discipline falls), and the effects of exclusionary discipline practices and the fortification or militarization of schools. Further, the policy brief introduces examples of SJPs that function consistently across all schools within a district as an alternative strategy to exclusionary discipline and fortification.
SJPs work to reduce the usage of school-based referrals to juvenile court and exclusionary discipline. Further, SJPs mitigate the collateral consequences associated with court involvement and exclusionary discipline (e.g., lower academic attainment, lower wages in adulthood). SJPs, consisting of chief judges, law enforcement, school administrators, and community stakeholders, create a memorandum of agreement (MOA) for districts to respond to focus acts, which are the unfavorable misbehaviors locally determined by the SJPs, by consistently applying a graduated response model, which is a continuum of age-appropriate services that increase in severity after repetitive misbehavior. Examples of focus acts are simple assault without injury, misdemeanor larceny, fighting, and so on. The graduated responses are rehabilitative, therapeutic, and cater to students’ complex needs that may underlie student misbehavior. Conversely, applying exclusionary, punitive responses may exacerbate student misconduct and misbehavior. The use of a graduated response model also provides an opportunity to involve families and community members to prevent future conflicts. Examples of graduated responses can be restorative justice circles child and family counseling, threat assessments, community service, etc. (see my last blog for more information).
For the SJP to be effective, districts need to consistently apply the graduated response model and utilize therapeutic, prosocial behavior-promoting responses to address misbehavior. By remaining consistent between and within schools, graduated responses can result in increased student engagement, academic achievement, attendance, and graduation rates. Further, collateral consequences such as court involvement, unemployment, and recidivism can be prevented; therefore, students are better able to achieve success in life without being systemically held back by their misbehaviors in school. As students become more academically engaged and successful, they become more socially mobile, which will benefit all Charlotteans. By improving school environment, SJPs may have more success in increasing school safety than fortification methods. Improved school environments result in reduced school violence and enhanced interpersonal relationships among students and school personnel. Unlike fortification methods, graduated responses can aim to build upon students’ strengths and encourage positive behaviors towards themselves and others. Simultaneously, the responses can mitigate the racial disproportionalities within the usage and effects of exclusionary practices. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), out of 20,014 total suspensions and expulsions during SY 2017-18, Black female and Black male students accounted for 4,696 and 10,311 of those suspensions and expulsions, respectively. Additionally, out of 602 total school based delinquency complaints, Black students accounted for 451 (74.9%). Although Black students account for the majority of suspensions, expulsions, and school-based referrals to court, they represent only 38.1% (2017-18) of the district population. With graduated responses in place and consistently used across the district, schools would be less likely to refer students to court. In practice, this means fewer Black students would become involved in the justice system and we can begin to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline (STPP).
The End (Sadly)
I am learning so much while writing this brief and cannot wait until its release after the public release of North Carolina’s SJP Toolkit. Without the help of CFCR, I would not have received the opportunity to help inform community stakeholders about the importance of having a SJP that ensures consistency across all CMS schools. I plan to utilize the writing and research skills I further developed while here to become a stronger policy advocate. Unfortunately, my adventures in the Queen City and at CFCR are coming to an end. I am appreciative of all of the experiences and opportunities I have had this summer, ranging from eating dinner at the Duke Endowment, getting lost Uptown on my second day, and attending different meetings and events (e.g., Children’s Alliance, training on Program Evaluation from a Racial Equity Lens at United Way) to developing relationships with the staff at CFCR.
Working at CFCR has, again, assisted my personal and intellectual growth more than any other educational experience I have had thus far. It made me realize that no matter which career path I choose, I will always remain an advocate for the unheard and marginalized. That is my purpose. I also know I am not the only person who feels this way. So, as my final act as CFCR’s Summer Research and Policy intern, I would appreciate if those reading would participate in creating a WordCloud, answering the question “What does CFCR (and its objectives) mean to you?” Let me know your thoughts!
Respond at PollEv.com/camwooten029
Text CAMWOOTEN029 to 22333 once to join, then text your message.
 Report to the North Carolina General Assembly