A School That Believes in Redemption


Alessandra Pacheco teaching students at New Earth

Rocio Handal Rodriguez and Alessandra Pacheco, Humans of DVC Editor and Features Editor

Imagine being homeless, suffering from addiction, or lacking in resources that could help.

Family and friends can not help because they are in the same situation. Treatments and resources are not available, so there is a feeling of loneliness.

People can feel so alone in these situations that doing drugs and getting in trouble is all they have, until one day the authorities catch up. If you’re a minor juvenile hall is the normal punishment and if your an adult, prison is your only option.

Say a person serves their sentence, but where can they go now they’re free from prison or juvenile facilities without being stereotyped and heavily judged?

For many, the thought of working with incarcerated youth or even previously incarcerated adults is filled with the stigma that these people do not deserve education at the same level as other non-convicted persons due to their past.

As of now, most  previously incarcerated adults and youth who come out of prisons are grown adults and struggle to find jobs because of their history with the system, meaning that these same people are lacking in education and are void of job offers.

According to the article ‘It still haunts me’: What it’s like to get a job after prison in America by Elena Holodny of Business Insider Magazine writes that a “study by the Manhattan Institute found a 20% reduction in return to crime by nonviolent offenders, who make up the majority of incarcerated people,” showing that those who are given the chance to come back into society, whether that be through school or work, are less likely to become regular offenders, yet the difficulty is still there.

So why is it that schools made or catered to previously incarcerated youth and adults are not used frequently or talked about so often? An answer could lie in the stigmas that surround incarcerated peoples, even more so to the youth.

“It just doesn’t feel very great to always be categorized. It’s not cool to always be seen as the incarcerated kid by adults or at schools,” Lucas, a seventeen-year-old student at New Earth, had to say on why he’s uncomfortable when people do talk about his sentence, not him as a person.

He went on to say, “I just think people are too scared to talk about the things I’ve been through or look at me difference once they realize I’m not the stereotype. I’m trying to get an education, not do anymore bad shit.”

If one student has been through many trials emotionally, physically, and mentally through their time in their system-where can they go to find the help they need? Whether that be a job, an education, or a home?

Schools and programs like New Earth could be the answer.  

The environment is welcoming, the small building in Culver City with life booming inside the school where there are usually twenty to thirty kids roaming around, stepping in and out of classrooms. The staff is always moving, always on their phone for meetings and field trips for the students, and laughter is heard every few minutes- jokes being passed from students and staff all the time.

Our students are resilient, tough, talented, frustrating, funny, inspiring, maddening at times, and very real and genuine,” said Marni Baum, New Earth’s Director of Clinical Programming.

In most ways, New Earth is a traditional school with the students required to come to school at 8am for a full day of education and leave at 3 p.m., a small kitchen with snacks and lunch available, and a work space in the middle of the floor with computers and chairs. Most people wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between a charter school and New Earth with just a few glances, but New Earth teaches in an untraditional way that caters to those who need it most.

Whereas most schools hold only minors (people under the age of 18) New Earth offers spaces to even previously incarcerated adults so that they too can find an education and receive their high school diploma as well as help finding a job.

“I was here when the program first started, I’m like a dinosaur,” said Greg, a 22-year-old intern who chose not to state his last name. “I remember when this first started and it was straight up just the Explore department [program] – when they just offered juvenile kids a chance to meet with like random animals and write like reports on them and stuff. It’s crazy how it’s a whole school and program now exist and I got to see it all since I was always an intern”

Not only is Greg an intern, but he’s also currently getting his high school diploma at New Earth while working for the betterment of the program as a whole. There are countless stories from within New Earth that show how giving people chance. Giving them a chance at redemption, one that benefits everyone by telling people who previously never had a chance to have an education in a non-traditional away.

If one isn’t convinced that these students deserve a second chance, Marni Baum sums the students and school up best:

Our youth have had it rough and they still show up. Because when they let you get to know them, you get to see how truly special, unique, and amazing each is. I believe they deserve more.”

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