New school gives juvenile inmates chance to turn their lives around

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - A new school in Las Cruces is giving juvenile inmates the chance to turn their lives around.

The Aztec Youth Academy is now open inside the John Paul Taylor Detention Center.

"Change and not come back and get a better future," one young inmate told ABC-7.

With the help of teachers at the Aztec Youth Academy, he said he's on his way.

"I never got algebra, but I learned more algebra in here than I did in 'the outs.' You can sit there and the teacher will sit there the whole period and talk to you," another inmate said.

The new building gives inmates five classrooms where they can learn the core academic subjects, but teachers here work on more than that.

"Have confidence in themselves. That's a big thing. They've gone their whole lives feeling less than other people," said Gene Miller, a language arts teacher at the school.

CYFD operates a state-sanctioned school district that includes three schools – two in Albuquerque and one in Las Cruces. Each school is co-located with at least one CYFD-run facility, and uses a curriculum aligned with state standards set by the Public Education Department. Students attend school each weekday from 7:30am till 2:00pm. 

"That staff at the Aztec Youth Academy help kids engage in their education again," says CYFD Secretary Yolanda Deines.  "These kids are usually not doing well in school when they come to us.  They have been suspended, or expelled, or they just don't go to school.  Our test scores now trend upwards, and it's rewarding to see our students start talking about vocations and post-secondary learning." 

There are nine teachers at the Aztec Youth Academy covering subjects like science, English, math, social studies and special education. There are also two new vocational teachers as well as a special education coach, substitute teachers and educational assistants. The new education complex has five classrooms, three administrative office spaces, a library, a gymnasium, an exercise room, and a state-of-the-art greenhouse that will be maintained by the juvenile clients.

On Wednesday, Gov. Susana Martinez visited the school. She challenged the inmates to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the new school.

Some inmates told ABC-7 they were up for the challenge.

"It gives you motivation so you don't want to come back. The governor is sitting here telling you you have another chance. I'm going to be taking culinary arts classes. I'm going to try to be a cook and do something to get my life started," an inmate said.

Soon inmates like him will be able to learn to be cooks, welders or even mechanics. The state plans to build a new vocational training building at the detention center.

A total of $5.7 million dollars was appropriated to CYFD to build and furnish the new education complex. The final cost of the education complex, which included the building and furnishing of the gymnasium, classrooms, office spaces, and greenhouse cost a total of $5.1 million. The remaining $600,000 will be used to build a new vocational training building.

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