USC students help DJJ youth with reading

A USC grad student helps a teen at DJJ with reading Thursday.

COLUMBIA, S.C.—Fifteen grad students at the University of South Carolina are taking part in a unique program that gives them experience while helping troubled youth and reducing crime.

The USC students all have their undergraduate degrees in English and plan to become English teachers. The program has them go to the state Department of Juvenile Justice to work one-on-one with some of the students there who are struggling with reading.

Andrew Barnwell, one of the grad students, says, “We go over whatever section he’s struggling with, try to pin down that issue and then we work with some practiced and tested methods that are designed to help that student with that issue.”

The DJJ students have read books that the USC students then go over with them. The students meet one-on-one five times for about an hour-and-a-half each time. As part of the intensive, three-week Maymester, the USC students also have class time with their professor and those classes also take place at DJJ.

Barnwell says, “It lets us have some one-on-one time with a student, something that is very important when we enter our actual teaching careers and may run into students who are struggling. It takes everything that we’ve been learning in classrooms and lets us actually see it in action, lets us apply it where it actually matters.”

The student he’s working with, 17-year-old Tevin J. from Aiken, says, “It’s a big help to us as students ’cause sometimes we have trouble reading, and it’s a big help to them because we’re grading them.”

The reason the program likely reduces crime is that studies have shown a direct correlation between decreasing literacy rates and the increasing likelihood that a juvenile at DJJ will commit more crimes once he’s released and end up back at DJJ or in an adult prison.

USC student Kaila Morris says, “It just makes me reflective of my process of teaching, especially when it comes to teaching reading and it just gives me a different perspective and experience.”

The DJJ student she’s working with, 16-year-old Yavaundre R. from Sumter, says, “It helped me to enjoy reading more, ’cause I can relate to certain things now. And I’m sure it’s going to help me pass my GED.”