As a Collaborative for Educational Services (CES) Instructor at the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services’ RFK Girls Treatment facility, Danielle Maco had been using components of the monthly BreakFree Education initiatives with her students since the 2018-2019 school year. BreakFree Education, a national organization that partners directly with juvenile justice agencies, provides educational programs that “inspire and engage students held in confinement and get them excited about their education”.
This past school year, Maco made the commitment to complete at least 5 of the initiatives, to participate in BreakFree’s Badge program, ultimately earning her own BreakFree Educator Badge, and helping RFK to earn the Books Over Bars badge. This work, according to Maco, happened with “the help of students, staff and co-teachers at RFK ” who made it possible to complete all 10 of BreakFree’s initiatives during the school year. It was “a heavy lift” to do all the work during the year, but also, she says, very rewarding!
Maco explained that each month has its own theme. The topic for March was “Unleashed” with lessons in Physics, including force and motion, and learning about Granville T Woods, the inventor of the Figure 8 roller coaster, prior to students taking what they have learned and actually building a functioning roller coaster completely from paper. At RFK, this work was done in an area where not only students, but teachers could also be part of the team and participate along with students. Many such programs are collaborative, giving students a level of comfort to keep going, as well as a chance to deepen their team building skills.
Maco noted that students are sometimes apprehensive to begin work in a new, unknown area, so there are options for them. Often, as students begin the lessons, they became more comfortable with continuing the work. If not, they have the choice of putting the work towards daily assignment credit. Or, the work could be finished and then submitted to Breakfree Education as complete.
In October, the “Unsung” initiative required that students not only focus on ELA, Math and Social Studies, but move from this work to writing their own songs, putting words to music and working on different safe online platforms such as SoundTrap to find just the right sound for their words. In December – “Unknown” introduced them to Henrietta Lacks and how her cells were used for medical research. Her story incorporated learning about ethical practices in medicine while touching on both history and science. Students completed their work by either drawing either a portrait of Lacks or a self portrait.
Much of the work from BreakFree Education fits into the DYS Empower Your Future (EYF) Initiative, which focuses on life skills and career readiness. In November’s “Unconstruct” initiative, students worked to uncover a problem and create a solution, focusing on who would use the solution and “learn to empathize with them.” Then, the students had to build a prototype of their solution. Maco’s students focused on studying the multiple issues related to homelessness, then built a cardboard homeless shelter designed so that families could stay together. This project was finished and submitted to BreakFree, and upon review, the work was awarded a prize by the BreakFree review team.
Moving forward, Maco will be taking her knowledge of BreakFree Education and classroom work with her to her new role as an Instructional Technology Coach with the DYS program, working with teachers in West and Central facilities. “I’ll be helping teachers with anything tech related that they want to use in the classroom, and will share how helpful BreakFree was for me – that’s one of my goals, helping our teachers get into this and know it’s not one more thing on their plate, but that it can be used for multiple genres – history, ELA – multiple areas. I am looking forward to supporting our teachers, and with BreakFree Education, I was a teacher who used it, now as a coach, I can help support teachers who are trying it out for the first time.”
The Collaborative for Educational Services (CES) has been a partner to the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) since 2003, creating access to high-quality secondary and post-secondary education, career exploration, and workforce development opportunities for youth in the care and custody of DYS.