DYS Programs - Education

Education Programs under Department of Youth Services

Beginning in 2003, the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) undertook an unprecedented reform of its education programs. This continuous improvement process, referred to as the “Education Initiative”, has created access to high quality education and employment opportunities for youth in the care and custody of DYS.   This is an effort by the Department of Youth Services in partnership with Commonwealth Corp., and the Collaborative for Education Services to advance the learning process for DYS involved young people.

At DYS, we offer small classroom settings, individualized attention, coaching and a cognitive behavioral strategy that all contribute to a supportive process for DYS involved youth. We also actively engage families and youth in academic and vocational goal setting so that there is ownership and investment in the learning process. Over the last two years DYS has been strategic in our work to engage our Juvenile Justice Youth Development Specialists (JJYDS), clinical staff and program managers in supporting education with DYS youth. This team effort across the workforce provides youth support and a unified message from the adults that education is critical for success.

Some highlights from the previous school year include:

As we look ahead to the coming school year, DYS continues to dedicate resources towards targeted and timely educational interventions to boost youth engagement and learning in preparation for successful transitions back into the community.

Curriculum and Instruction Initiatives

For youth who are still in high school, their studies are aligned with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and guided by Instructional Guides in the core content areas of English Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, and Science. DYS provides general educational services to youth in DYS state and provider operated residential programs. Special educational services are provided by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”) and its Special Educational Services in Institutional Settings (“SEIS”) through a contract with CES. DYS structures its school year to consist of 180 days with 5.5 hours of daily learning time. DYS also supports a 30- day summer school program with 4.5 hours of daily structured learning time.

High School Equivalency (HiSET®/GED®)-

While HiSET testing and preparation sites across the Commonwealth were closed due to the pandemic, youth in DYS care continued to have access to preparation resources through HiSET Academy, an online instructional tool. HiSET Academy features a preparation program that includes practice tests in Mathematics, Reading, Writing, Science, and Social Studies.

TITLE I Programs and services- Who We Serve Through Title I, Part D

DYS receives federal funding to improve the quality of education in facilities for neglected and delinquent youth who have yet to attain their high school credential and are under the age of 21. Title I funding has allowed DYS to supplement services for youth with significant literacy and numeracy skills deficits and/or youth who identify as English Learners (ELs). The DYS English Language Education Program provides youth with an individualized plan that focuses on the literacy skills, education, career and vocational exploration, and postsecondary education opportunities necessary to facilitate a successful transition back to their communities.

English Language Education Program

English Learners (EL) present with varying levels of English mastery. In SY 2020-2021 the DYS English Language Education Program provided early screening and assessment to identify EL youth. A personalized plan of service was developed for each EL youth to provide them access to the general education curriculum.

English Language Education Program Structure

DYS uses a Sheltered English Immersion (SEI), “an English language acquisition process in which nearly all classroom instruction is in English but with the curriculum and presentation designed for youth who are learning the language". The DYS EL teaching team includes Literacy Specialists, English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching specialists, and general education content teachers who collaborate on programming. Depending on a youth’s assessed level of English proficiency, their learning plan is delivered through 1:1 or small group instruction led by a Literacy Specialist, or through embedded classroom strategies implemented by the classroom teacher.

Empower Your Future (EYF)

 The EYF initiative was adopted into the DYS strategic plan as a key to prepare young people for success upon discharge from DYS commitment and to promote youth engagement and youth voice.  EYF is a youth-centered initiative that connects classroom activities to life skills needed for a youth’s future goals and promotes engagement in their case plan. The EYF Initiative was re-designed to engage an older population with a wide range of skill-building needs, as well as to function as an integrated learning platform that bridges programs and services across the DYS continuum from residential to community care. The new structure builds on personalization to support a youth’s individual transition planning needs.

Career Readiness

DYS and CES are invested in guiding youth to see themselves as college going by providing equitable access to college opportunities, preparing them to be college and career ready, and by offering a menu of postsecondary and career exploration options. This past year, we continued developing creative solutions with our higher education partners across the Commonwealth. Through the DYS College Program, youth in DYS’ residential programs participated in virtual sessions with college advisors to matriculate towards an associate’s or bachelor’s degree and are able to dually enroll and receive college credits while still completing their high school class work. Through partnerships with six higher education institutions (Urban College of Boston, Bunker Hill Community College, Springfield Technical Community College, Bristol Community College, Holyoke Community College, and Brandeis University) and based on youth interest, DYS offered college credit bearing certificate programs in Hospitality, Digital Publishing, and General Studies, with a Criminal Justice Focus.

In School Year 2021, 172 DYS youth obtained the following industry-recognized certificates.

education chart

Transition Services

Youth are assigned an Education and Career Counselor (“ECC”), whose job is to ensure that assessments and appropriate academic records are shared jointly between the school districts and DYS. Upon commitment to DYS, the ECC together with the education team helps youth develop and implement their academic plans and ensures their class attendance leads to the accrual of credits towards graduation. The education team also provides HiSET preparation instruction and helps youth enroll in post- secondary classes informed by their personal academic and career goals.Arts Initiative

The DYS Arts Initiative in partnership with Commonwealth Corp. provides programming opportunities across the DYS service continuum, culminating with the annual statewide, Arts Showcase. The Arts Initiative utilizes virtual platforms and new hybrid models to continue to provide access to arts programming through Arts Residencies. The Artist in Residency is Integrated into both the academic day and extracurricular activities, and their residencies last from 6 to12 weeks. The residencies conclude with a celebratory sharing of work for staff and invited guests. Artists in Residency introduce youth to many different forms of art that include music production, spoken word, improvisational theater, fashion, entrepreneurship, dance, poetry, woodworking, and drumming.

HIGHLIGHTS: PARENT AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT- Open Houses and Parent-Teacher Conferences

DYS residential programs throughout the state host events showcasing the comprehensive education programming. These events provide opportunities for families to meet teachers and review their child’s academic and career development. Whenever possible, these events include an opportunity to hear directly from youth about their plans for college and career development. Throughout the school year, there are parent/teacher conferences and special events including youth artistic performances, science fairs, and art exhibitions. During each quarter parent/teacher conference, an Academic Growth Report is reviewed which details a youth’s progress in academic and career readiness and skill development.

The follow are examples of the collaborative work of DYS education and program teams to foster communication and engagement with youth, their families, and the constellation of caring adults in the lives of DYS youth.

  • Brockton Revocation/Reception education, clinical and program staff coordinated a Family Game Day event that provided a casual setting for teachers, youth and families to get to know one another. The event included teachers facilitating the Breakout EDU puzzle game (a virtual, education puzzle solving game) as well as an EYF and Math game, the History of Games with chess, and Mancala.
  • Southeast Secure Detention hosted a family paint night facilitated by the regional art teacher. Members of the education team joined in creating free-hand paintings and pieces with stencils. Families were given a guided tour of the program’s school wing. The program also hosted their first “Grill and Chill” event and two special events with Everett Company Stage and School which featured youth, teachers, and staff in performances of newly acquired improvisation skills.
  • Southeast Secure Treatment hosted “A Community Mixed Tape” and family dinner to celebrate the art residency with artist Harrison Grigsby. The youth presented their musical creations to guests and teachers, met with parents in the classrooms, and shared updates on their progress. A picture booth was set up for youth, families, staff, and teachers to have their holiday photos taken together. Preschool and elementary age family members were given scholastic books to take home.
  • Nauset Academy hosted an event showcasing a large group art piece and music projects created by youth working with the Cotuit Center for the Arts. The event allowed the youth to share their art experience as well as present their artwork to parents, family, and the community.
  • Northeast region Robert F. Kennedy School  held a “Harvest Family Night” for families to meet and talk to teachers about academic programming offered at RFK and the academic pursuits of their children.
  • Central Region celebrated graduates with staff and their families, through virtual gatherings and in person at the district offices and programs. Each graduate received a personal gift card that could be used to celebrate with their families. Many graduates were also able to participate in either virtual or socially distant graduation ceremonies with their graduating school districts. In August 2021, two graduation celebrations were held for youth in DYS programs and their families in June and July 2021, youth in the community were recognized for their achievements during individualized graduation luncheon.
  • Each District office also held celebrations, like the Webster’s office small cookout for their youth and families. STRIVE hosted a series of events for youth, families and staff including a holiday celebration in December. Youth made chocolate candies, sugar cookies and peanut butter cookies. Three community engagement events were held in connection with the Empower Your Future curriculum including an online presentation on how to apply for college and complete a FAFSA with guest speaker Buffie Whittaker from Quinsigamond Community College. Fitchburg District Office hosted an event in the fall of 2020 where staff, including the ECCs, assembled and delivered Thanksgiving Baskets to the families of youth working with the office. In Spring 2021 the office delivered activity baskets to all families which included movies, snacks, board games, card games, and fidget toys for the families.
  • RFK Girls Treatment held a Breakfree Education Open House where youth shared their fall Breakfree Education projects like “Unsung “where youth wrote lyrics that could be used in a Rock the Vote song with families, program staff, educators and various CES and DYS guests as well as representatives from BreakFree Education. Two Virtual Art Celebrations events were also held to highlight the youth’s work with Enchanted Circle Theater group. The artists worked with youth on creative projects to encourage open communication. Families, teachers, and program staff were able to attend virtually through Google Meet.
  • Gandara RISE Treatment held a Watch Party for staff and youth to share food and cheer on youth who participated in the live stream of the DYS Art Showcase.
  • Westfield Detention and Westfield Revocation held three major events during the year. The Fall Festival brought the two programs together to celebrate fall and the return of school and community members to campus. The Fall Festival included DYS guests including Commissioner Forbes, CES guests, and caseworkers and program advocates as well as food, games, speeches and activities to foster community.
  • A Winter Holiday Party was also held where the award for best overall Gingerbread House construction in DYS was presented to the youth of Westfield Revocation by DYS Assistant Commissioner Dr. Luz Valverde and regional DYS dignitaries. After the award ceremony youth were treated to pizza and wings. A Virtual Guest Speaker Series was held that brought community members to speak to youth about employment opportunities, community volunteering and involvement, and resources for youth upon returning to the community. Guest speakers included members of ROCA in Holyoke, Pittsfield’s 18 Degrees organization, and community business owners.

DYS Education Reports

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