Wilmington – Governor Jack Markell, Secretary Jennifer Ranji of the Delaware Children’s Department, her staff, and nearly 70 other special guests braved the cold on Thursday, December 12th for a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open the Department’s new Juvenile Multi-Purpose Education Facility. The nearly 14-thousand square foot state of the art building, which sits on the Agency’s administrative campus near Newport, will be the new educational home for youth who are committed to the Department’s Level IV Residential Cottages.
The Cottages are staff secure residential treatment programs designed to meet the needs of adjudicated youth and assist with their successful transition back into the community. While in the Department’s care, the Cottage youth are required to attend classes daily. Their facility where the children currently attend school is aging, has limited space, little privacy, and limited access to technology. Education staff says research shows a 5 – 17 percent difference in academic achievement outcomes for students in poorly maintained facilities.
“The work the Children’s Department is doing with the youth in their care is making a difference,” said Governor Markell. “This building will allow the quality of the environment to match the quality of the educational instruction. Students will have access to better technology and additional programming, which will lead to greater success when they return to their communities.”
The new facility is wired for 21st century technology with smart boards and a computer lab. It has additional classroom space, a dedicated library/resource room for both youth and their parents, and dedicated rooms for art and physical activity. Many students in Department custody are significantly behind in the number of credits needed to earn a diploma. The updated technology will allow students access to online programs and increase opportunities for credit recovery and acceleration, and college level coursework.
The Department’s Education Unit staff already work with the youth on providing career readiness classes, honing interviewing skills, and creating opportunities for internships before they leave Cottage care. But they hope to increase opportunities for career exploration and job skill development, by expanding existing, or developing new, partnerships with businesses and non-profits in the community that help youth develop marketable skills.
“We cannot fully address all of the challenges that these youth will face when they leave – but if we can help them to gain resiliency, better decision-making skills, and improved academic status, and show them a path forward that they did not think was possible when they arrived, we will have provided them with critical tools to help them to be successful,” said Secretary Ranji.
The Department wants the facility to be much more than just a school though. The three Residential Cottages (2 for males and 1 for females) are operated by the Department’s Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services (YRS). YRS will use existing resources to staff the new building in the evening hours so that programming such as substance abuse education and treatment, Independent Life Skills Program, Mentoring, Parenting, and Anger Management classes currently conducted at each of the Cottages can be condensed and provided in one location.
Additionally, federal grants will provide the opportunity to create an Evening Reporting program to provide an alternative pathway for youth who are non-compliant with the terms of their probation. While there, they will receive a variety of trauma informed, evidence based services, educational support and treatment. YRS also plans to implement a comprehensive gun and gang violence intervention program through a partnership with the Delaware Center for Justice.
The new $5 Million dollar facility was funded as a result of the Capital Budget process through the Building Delaware’s Future Now Funding. The building was designed in accordance with Governor Markell’s EO 18 to design new state buildings to be LEED certified. The Department is pursuing Gold level LEED certification by mid-2014. Features such as the use of recycled materials in the flooring and other building materials, low flow fixtures to save on water usage, and automatic light dimmers to reduce energy usage were selected to increase the sustainability of the facility over the long term. The architect of record for the project was Buck Simpers Architects & Associates of Wilmington, and the Contractor was Emory Hill and Company of New Castle.
Youth from the Residential Cottages will begin using their new educational facility in January to begin their new term.
The Children’s Department provides services to children who have been abused, neglected, are dependent, have mental health or substance problems, have been adjudicated delinquent by the Courts, as well as prevention services targeted toward all youth. For more information, please visit www.kids.delaware.gov.
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