Using Powerful Technology to Advocate For Youth – Digital Promise

Using Powerful Technology to Advocate For Youth

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HP Teaching Fellows are part of Reinvent the Classroom, a collaboration between Digital Promise, HP, Microsoft, and Intel. These educators create deep, meaningful learning experiences for their students that are personal and accessible, authentic and challenging, collaborative and connected, and inquisitive and reflective.

Across the U.S., nearly 700,000 students navigate the justice system and enter secure schools each year (Children’s Defense Fund, 2023). In some cases, the transition from a traditional classroom setting to learning in a secure facility may be an adjustment for learners, but educators and organizations like BreakFree Education, are actively committed to engaging in effective interventions and innovative learning practices to ensure youth overcome lingering academic barriers.

Raising awareness of and defining terms like “secure schools” and “juvenile justice” for all educational constituents is the first step to leveling the playing field and can help us better understand and support historically marginalized learners across the globe. During a recent webinar, HP Teaching Fellows had the opportunity to learn more about advocating for justice-involved youth from, Dr. Kaylah Holland, director of instructional technology & blended learning at BreakFree Education. Throughout this learning experience, Dr. Holland shared data and technology driven practices that support and uphold powerful learning principles to provide students with access to meaningful learning.

The Reality of the Juvenile Justice System

In her presentation, Dr. Holland shared that, “In 2019, there were more than 240,000 instances of a young person detained, committed, or both in the juvenile justice system,” highlighting the stark reality that young learners navigating the juvenile justice system often experience an interruption to learning on a traditional school campus. How can we support learners daily, despite their learning location and environment? Shedding light on this reality and prioritizing meaningful learning experiences for all learners, especially historically and systematically excluded learners, creates Powerful Learning and can disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

A graph depicting the racial and ethnic disparities of youth confinement rates in 2019 and likelihood of detention.

Caption: Current trends of racial/ethnic disparities of juvenile justice across the U.S.; Sourced from Annie E. Casey Foundation and Prison Policy Initiative

Alt text: A graph depicting the racial and ethnic disparities of youth confinement rates in 2019 and likelihood of detention.

Incorporating Powerful Technology

Technology, when used purposefully, has the power to help learners blossom and thrive no matter the learning environment, and is essential for building engagement and learners’ skill sets. HP Teaching Fellow, Renee Dawson, is an education technology specialist with unyielding passion for both supporting growing learners while establishing healthy relationships and integrating innovative technology into learning. Ms. Dawson started her education career running a new initiative to reintegrate middle school students who had been recently released from juvenile detention centers, and used technology to not only engage with students, but to better understand and serve their learning needs and variability.

In her presentation, Dr. Holland explained that, “education providers for secure schools vary by state, and can be a mixture of local school districts, state run programs, and nonprofits.” The lack of consistency regarding the management of education in juvenile justice facilities and limited access to tools and technology, presents a clear distinction between the educational opportunities and outcomes of incarcerated juveniles and their non-incarcerated peers.

Through strategically embedding innovative tech tools, Ms. Dawson has used countless resources to create opportunities for voice and choice in the learning environment. For example, tools like Microsoft Flip, Immersive Reader, and others have provided accessibility and versatility for independent learning. Gamified Learning with roadmaps or badging systems that offer opportunities for learners to “level up” or demonstrate growth in curriculum can often inspire and motivate students to progress in learning outcomes. For Ms. Dawson, engaging learners with gamified content in tools like Microsoft Powerpoint, creates variety, helps to capture learners’ interests, and creates opportunities for connection.

Building Relationships

Developing strong teacher and student relationships is crucial for creating a positive and productive learning environment in the classroom. Ms. Dawson approaches technology as a means to connect with learners. With firsthand experience with building meaningful relationships with learners, Ms. Dawson has used personalized learning, in addition to other strategies, to prioritize both learning and healthy connections. “With personalized learning, there’s a lot of one-on-one time with teachers and students, because everybody is kind of doing their independent learning thing, and then I can talk to each student, or pull them to my desk, or pull a couple of kids at a time. So that gives me more time to really get to know them.” Dr. Holland agrees that, “one of the easiest ways you can help to disrupt the school to prison pipeline is simply by building relationships with students.”

“one of the easiest ways you can help to disrupt the school to prison pipeline is simply by building relationships with students.” – Dr. Holland

Want to know more about using powerful technology to advocate for youth? Find more resources here:

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