Notre Dame students introduce “study abroad” program at the Juvenile Justice Center

Author: Shannon Chapla

Children who are placed in the Thomas N. Frederick Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) inSouth Bendhave committed crimes, suffered abuse or neglect and typically come from broken homes.Many are unaware of their potential and have narrow views of the world.

On the opposite end of the opportunity spectrum, a group of Notre Dame students back on campus after participating in one of the nations top international study programs, is working to offer a new perspective and a spark of motivation to these kids, simply by explaining to them what else is out there.

The Notre Dame students are teaching the JJC kids about the cultures and languages of the countries theyve visited through classes that provide a hands-on approach to learning, including cooking, games and art projects, and the kids are proving surprisingly willing to learn.

They are fascinated to see our photos and hear about bullfights, Aztecs, even the differences in the way money and transportation work,said Sebastian Lara, a senior who studied in Toledo, Spain, in 2005 and helped develop the JJC program.

We showed them pictures of our adventures in the cities ofAvilaandSalamancato try and capture for them the magnitude of Spanish history.After explaining thatAvilais famous for its well-preserved castle walls,we rhetorically asked if anyone had seen castles aroundSouth Bend.Hands shot up around the room. ‘WhiteCastle, the burger place,they proudly answered.We all laughed together and explained that Spaniards each day walk through the castle walls, which once were used for protection from invaders.

Required to take courses taught by instructors from the South Bend Community School Corporation, the JJC kids dont have to take the Notre Dame classes, but they do.

The alternative for students who do not participate is for them to sit in their cells,said Anne Hayes, assistant director in the Office of International Studies at Notre Dame and founder of the JJC classes.At the beginning of each session, we ask the JJC students if they are committed to fully participating.We remind them that they are required to listen and participate and that if they are not interested, they should let us know and they will be escorted back to their cells.So far, that hasnt happened.

Working toward her Masters in Non-Profit Administration degree at Notre Dame last year, Hayes developed the classes as a way to complete her required field work course and incorporate her study abroad students and the local community.After researching local non-profit organizations, she chose the JJC because of the enthusiastic response to her idea.

The Notre Dame students seem to genuinely like us,said Vicki McIntire, JJC director of education.Our kids can’t believe anyone would care enough about them to volunteer to come and spend time with them.They ask over and over, ‘Why are you doing this?This program is teaching them that learning can be fun and that people do believe in them. We have other programs, but nothing like this, and frankly, nothing this good.We are very grateful.

The curriculum, which focuses primarily on the culture and history ofSpainandMexico, including basic words and phrases, is expanding this semester to highlight aspects of Chilean culture taught by students recently returned fromSantiago.Classes, which began in February, take place every Tuesday and Thursday for an hour and a half for three weeks, to accommodate the high turnover of JJC students.

The first group of Notre Dame volunteers, including Sebastian, actually worked with me to design the curriculum,Hayes said.I formatted everything into a handbook that future volunteers can follow step by step.I suggested some topics and resources and the students did an amazing job of creatively integrating academics and fun.

The idea helped Hayes earn her MNA last May, but shes the only participant who has received academic credit.The Notre Dame volunteers, appreciative of their many blessings, are happy togive backand in return say they are better able to relive and retain more of what they experienced abroad.The JJC kids, perhaps originally trying to avoid sitting alone in a cell, are instead discovering an opportunity to grow.

The response has been overwhelming,Lara said.We have actually had students ask us to leave extra books and study sheets so they can look them over during the weekend.The lesson with the best reviews, however, has been on Spanish and Mexican food, where they get a chance to cook some specialties.You’d be amazed at what delicious enchiladas they can make!

* Contacts: * Anne Hayes, assistant director, Office of International Studies, _574-631-3229, , and Sebastian Lara, project volunteer,

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