The banner above the stage reads “Voice What Matters”, and at the 4th Annual June “Share Your Art, Share Your Voice” Statewide Youth Showcase sponsored by the Department of Youth Services (DYS), the students showed what mattered to them in paintings, sculptures, videos, song and dance. The Massachusetts program has had a long commitment to incorporating the arts into youth education. Said Peter Forbes, the Commissioner of DYS, “Many of the youth have unbelievable artistic talent, but they often don’t have exposure to the arts to see that.”
DYS students also express themselves through the power of words. In 2016, Teachers Marianne Pina and Jo-Anne Charette wrote with pride that one of their DYS students won a “highly commended” award in the national Words Unlocked Poetry Competition sponsored by the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings. Of the over 1,000 submissions this year to the competition, their student’s poem “I am as Mean as I am Tall” was one of only thirteen poems that made it to the final round. In announcing the award, Woody Clift, CES Director of DYS Program said, “It is such an amazing poem, and he should be commended for his terrific accomplishment.”
Opening minds and hearts through the arts are only one part of the educational program for young people in the care of DYS. Since 2003, CES has been a partner to DYS and the Commonwealth Corporation in creating access to high-quality education for DYS youth. Through the DYS Education Initiative and because of the talented teachers in the program, CES is helping to equip an especially vulnerable population of young people with the knowledge, skills and opportunities to see their world, and themselves, in a new light.
“When I think of the opportunities that we are able offer the young people within the DYS Education programs, it makes me proud to know that we are working diligently to think outside the box to meet students’ needs. More and more, that may mean offering credit recovery, HiSet, post-secondary, vocational pathways options, the arts, as well as re-sparking the joys of learning and making connections between who our students are and their education,” says Robin Warner, DYS Western Region Education Coordinator. “I am so thankful we have such a hard working group of caring adults helping to continually drive this work forward.”
This year, the Massachusetts program received national attention in a report issued by the Council of State Governments. Locked Out: Improving Educational and Vocational Outcomes for Incarcerated Youth spotlighted the role of the CES DYS Education and Career Counselors who support seamless transitions for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. In a PBS Newshour interview, Kelly McMorrow, DYS Education and Career Counselor commented on the work. “It’s challenging, but I think that’s our biggest goal, to find out what passions they have, and try to help them figure out what path they want to take, so that they can go down a positive road, so that they’re not labeled and defined by whatever their charge is.” That positive road was at the heart of thoughts expressed by Josh, a student in the program, who reflected, “I have goals for myself. I have people that see a lot in me, and I don’t want to really let them down, or myself down, for that matter.”