Literacy program educates juvenile offenders

27 September 2001 | Alameda County’s Camp Wilmont Sweeney is not a typical high school. Its students are convicted criminals, doing time in the juvenile justice system for violations like drug dealing, theft, and gang-related activities.

Many of the camp’s “residents” want to turn their lives around. But poor reading skills — most read at a fourth or fifth-grade level — will make it difficult to obtain a diploma or to get a job once released.

To improve their literacy skills and chances for future success, Alameda County and the Berkeley campus created a special program.

With funding procured by the Alameda County Library, the Graduate School of Education’s CAL Reads program recruited Cal Corp volunteers to provide one-on-one tutoring designed to increase Sweeney students’ reading and writing proficiency.

In addition to tutoring, the Juvenile Hall Literacy Collaborative includes visits from authors and group discussions about books.

Many of the students view the program as an opportunity to turn their lives around.

“It’s hard for me because my first language is Spanish and I’m confused by words in English,” said camp resident J.M.
“When I leave this program, I want to take everything I learned with me, because I want to get a good job or go back to school and learn more.”

Camp residents aren’t the only ones learning from the program. Berkeley student tutors gain valuable teaching skills and a raised level of awareness.

“It’s an opportunity for Berkeley students to confront stereotypes of class and race,” said Vicki Benson, program coordinator and tutor.

“You go in with preconceived notions and you walk away surprised and amazed at what these kids can do. It’s very rewarding.”


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