Juvenile Court School Offers “HOPE”

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(Memphis) Imagine if you had just 4 weeks to change the life of a troubled young person.

What would you do? That is the challenge at one Memphis City School.

Its students are charged with the most serious of crimes yet they've found a way to offer Hope.

It's Friday, but there's no going home over the weekend for these students.

Temporarily, these boys and girls, ages 12 to 17, live where they learn.

They are under the watchful eyes of guards. They're students at Shelby County Juvenile Court Hope Academy.

Students are charged with aggravated assaults, rapes, even homicides.

Others are here for less serious crimes.

Usually there's one common problem, truancy. However, now they're part of a captive audience.

They're forced to pay attention and pushed to learn.

Counselor, Dr. Kim Dillihunt said, "I had a student tell me the other day if my regular school was like this I would go everyday."

Michael Smith is the director of Hope Academy, "The teachers take time with students and that's something they very seldom get in the larger high schools because of just the pupil teacher ratio numbers."

The catch is these students are here an average of 21 days before their case is disposed of in juvenile court.

That's less than a month to change not only aptitudes but attitudes.

Smith said, "We would like to catch them at a vulnerable young age, still as a teenager and try to talk to them about right from wrong and not doing the kinds of things that would bring them to a place like this."

Teens go to a state run permanent detention facility or back home when they leave.

For those lucky enough to go home, they take a little bit of Hope Academy with them.

Each Hope Academy alum leaves with a mentor.

These volunteers commit to at least one year with a child. Dr.Clinton Miller tells the group he's here because statistics show he's not supposed to be, "I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and when I was a young man this new thing came out called crack cocaine and everybody was selling it and I was like born into the gang. My brother was a gang banger and I was going to be a gang banger also, no choice."

Miller's mother moved South.

He says the change of scenery saved him, "Like most of the kids here I didn't have a father. They might not even have a mom. Some don't go to school so you replace those things, they say aww,  it's okay. I can do this."

The goal is to keep this from becoming the cradle to the prison pipeline. Make learning intense, show someone cares, and instill hope this is the last detention center they'll ever see.