Profile No. 51

The Living Classroom Foundation -- Baltimore, MD

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Program to change attitudes about violence.

Program Goal:
To provide adjudicated youth with GED classes and employment training to improve future employment opportunities; to provide students with a safe haven during afterschool hours.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
Juvenile offenders, middle school students.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
Baltimore City Empowerment Zone and southeastern neighborhoods.

Evaluated by:
Internal data collection.

Contact Information:
John Dillow, Director of the Maritime
The Living Classrooms Foundation
802 South Caroline Street
Baltimore, MD 21231
Phone: 410­685­0295

Years of Operation:

Since 1989, the Living Classroom Foundation's Fresh Start Program has provided juveniles (ages 16 through 21) with employment training and academic remediation. These juveniles are typically referred through the juvenile court system or their probation or parole officers. One-half of the participants have been convicted of a crime and are serving a sentence at a juvenile lockdown facility. Most of the remainder are living in group homes, halfway houses, or residential juvenile treatment facilities, and a few are living with their families. Typical students include juveniles charged with drug- or gun-related offenses.

Through a rolling admissions process, students enter the program continuously; a graduation ceremony is held every 8 weeks. Twenty-five juveniles attend every day for 9months and are divided into groups of five (a 1:5 staff-to-student ratio). Students learn carpentry, boat building, and construction skills, and many earn their GED's. The chairs, sheds, and even custom-built canoes that the students build are sold, and the profits are shared by all the youth in the program according to a point system. This money is put into a savings account for the student, which is given to him or her on graduation day; those who fail to graduate forfeit their money. Following graduation, students also may participate in an inhouse internship (e.g., restoring and maintaining historic wooden ships or serving as an office assistant) or an offsite internship (e.g., working for a local development contractor restoring a historic office building). These internships are typically unpaid and are designed to provide real-world work experiences for the youth.

Though the main purpose of this program is employment training and GED preparation, the program also focuses on improving the students' social, conflict resolution, and individual problem-solving skills. There are frequent planned and unplanned lessons in conflict and stress management because "teachable moments" occur naturally in this hands-on environment in which teamwork is necessary. The program also practices zero tolerance for alcohol, drugs, or violence. Students engaging in any of these behaviors are asked to leave. The movie "First Time Felon" is shown to the students; it portrays a violent scene of a juvenile shot in a drug dispute. The film is then discussed, personal experiences with violence are shared, and students discuss how to prevent violent outcomes.

The juveniles are assessed at the outset of the program on their academic abilities. The daily curriculum may be remedial, including GED preparation, computer training, and, when appropriate, vocational training. To prepare students for graduation and release from the residential facility, placement staff and counselors work with youth from the beginning of the program to teach them job-seeking skills (interviewing, writing a resume, etc.) and budgeting. When graduation nears, placement staff assist the students in finding jobs and housing. A job bank of employers willing to hire motivated workers is maintained for this purpose. Graduates can receive guidance and help from the program after graduation as well.

Graduates are tracked for 3 years after completion of the program. Approximately 50percent of the juveniles who enter the program graduate. Juveniles are contacted and asked about their current status and, when possible, this information is verified against data from the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice for youth 18 years of age and under. As of the latest reporting period (July 1998), 57 percent of graduates were employed and 90 percent of these were earning more than the minimum wage; 43 percent of graduates have earned their GED's; 41 percent live independently; 38 percent have been rearrested; and 11 percent are incarcerated. This incarceration rate compares favorably with the 32-percent recommitment or reincarceration rate of two other State juvenile detention programs, as reported by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice. The program was awarded a Promising and Effective Practices for Youth award as one of the U.S. Department of Labor's and National Youth Employment Coalition's top 32 youth programs across the country.

The program is supported in part by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice, the Governor's Office on Crime Control and Prevention, the Baltimore County Office of Employment and Training, and private donations. Private businesses and corporations in the area also contribute to the program through internships, donated materials, Chief Executive Office orders for products, and their willingness to hire motivated graduates. The Living Classroom Program is not formally linked with the Baltimore Comprehensive Communities Program (CCP) (see profile 1); however, the program targets the same population of juvenile offenders that is identified in the CCP.

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