Atlanta YDC: Poet Tree

Story support and photos from Office of Behavioral Health Director Dr. Christy Doyle

The Department of Juvenile Justice strives to help the young people in its care develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed when they return to their homes and local communities. In secure facilities around the state, each interaction between staff members and youth is an opportunity to teach, coach, and reinforce positive life skills.   In reaching out to youth in these small moments, confidence grows, and each student has a chance to feel special and competent.

During an average day at the Department of Juvenile Justice, a youth may learn multiple things at the same time while in the classroom or during daily events. Teachers at DJJ facilities often are the inspiration and conduit for teaching life and educational lessons.

A good example of the dedication of DJJ teachers can be found with the work of Atlanta Youth Development Campus language arts teacher Sandra Marrongelli.  Ms. Marrongelli uses the principles of social and emotional learning to help the young men in her classes to gain greater insights into themselves and empathy for others. 

Uniquely, the simple act of teaching grammar and literary classics has turned into an opportunity for personal growth. With each reading assignment, Ms. Marrongelli insists on having her students identify with the literary characters they are reading, leading discussions on how literature can and does reflect on real life regardless of circumstance.

Writing assignments also provide Atlanta YDC youth with ways to explore and expand their personal views while examining their place in the world around them. Whether it involves developing their own creation myth after reading those originally developed by Native Americans, writing an essay from the perspective of a cloud or writing a professional letter requesting a loan to open up a community library, Atlanta YDC youth are learning the true meaning of learning and independent thought, all while learning basic language arts skills.

Kudos to Ms. Marrongelli and the Atlanta YDC team for broadening the horizons of our youth while teaching needed language skills.