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First university‑level certificate program arrives at DJJ

Students seated in a classroom
SF State, Project Rebound and DJJ launch online ethnic studies curriculum

SACRAMENTO—The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), in partnership with the San Francisco State University (SFSU) College of Ethnic Studies and Project Rebound, have launched the first-ever university-level certificate program for DJJ youth. Thirty-three students from three separate facilities are enrolled to start the Ethnic Studies curriculum, taking classes via video conference. 

“This project is the fulfillment of over two years of planning and work among the three partners,” said DJJ Director Heather Bowlds. “With the successful launch of this course, DJJ, SFSU and Project Rebound hope to replicate this experience and provide additional opportunities for similarly situated students even after the closure of DJJ on June 30, 2023.”

Students in the certificate program take 12 units of courses in the disciplines of Ethnic Studies: Africana Studies, American Indian Studies, Asian American Studies, Latina/Latino Studies and comparative Race and Resistance Studies. The program develops critical analysis as students learn about the importance of history, science, culture, and community. Visit SFSU’s Certificate in Ethnic Studies Empowerment page.

“This course offering is a huge milestone,” said DJJ Superintendent of Education Troy Fennel. “This partnership with San Francisco State and Project Rebound is a significant accomplishment in our ability to provide post-secondary education to our youth and demonstrates the ability to safely provide our students access to virtual post-secondary opportunities.”  

The offering was delayed for a year due to issues inherent in the efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but launched on August 27 via simulcast at three DJJ facilities in Stockton and Ventura, allowing SFSU professor Nate Tan to interact directly with students in a secure, monitored environment.

“I’m beyond excited with the success of this historic occasion,” said Fennel. “Despite all the obstacles, we have overcome and demonstrated that youth in secure facilities can safely access virtual college and university level courses.  The research continually shows that education is one of the most significant and consistent reducers of recidivism.”   

Project Rebound, which works directly with students in DJJ facilities to encourage higher educational opportunities and academic counseling to students as well as formerly incarcerated citizens, has contributed funds to cover tuition for students. Meanwhile, SFSU is in the process of official course certification so that students can apply for future Pell Grants for tuition. 

“We have to do our part to help best prepare young people to make better choices,” said C. Jason Bell, director of programs for Project Rebound.

“We’ve seen how these courses transform students’ lives at SFSU and we hope that they will have a similar impact on DJJ students,” said Amy Sueyoshi, Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at SFSU. “Higher education must offer relevant and accessible courses that engage and empower students. Ethnic Studies offers a broader lens for students to better understand their personal difficulties as structural and create a framework for change in which they can play an active role.”

 DJJ operates a local education agency recognized as the California Education Authority (CEA). It contains three high schools accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in each correctional facility. Each high school provides youth with curriculum that meets the California Department of Education requirements for high school and is similar to what students would receive in their local communities. Youth are scheduled to attend school based on their individual academic needs.

In 2021, CEA conferred 127 high school diplomas and 26 GEDs. Youth may continue their educational progress via partnerships with California community colleges, including San Joaquin Delta, Ventura, Moorpark and Lassen; and now, San Francisco State University.

DJJ provides education and trauma-informed treatment to California’s youthful offenders up to the age of 25 who have the most serious criminal backgrounds and most intense treatment needs. DJJ provides academic and vocational education, medical care, and treatment programs that address violent, criminogenic, and sex offender behavior, as well as substance abuse and mental health needs while maintaining a safe and secure environment conducive to learning.

Contact: Mike Sicilia, DJJ, (916) 628-3280