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youth-stepsmall6-8.jpg “Do you have the ganas?” Jaime Escalante, a math teacher from Garfield High School in east Los Angeles, would lean into his students, look them in the eye and ask, “Do you have the desire?”

By Mike Cosentino
Larson Newspapers
________________

“Do you have the ganas?”

Jaime Escalante, a math teacher from Garfield High School in east Los Angeles, would lean into his students, look them in the eye and ask, “Do you have the desire?”

Escalante and his teaching methods were made famous by the 1988 film, “Stand and Deliver.”

youth-steplarge6-8.jpg
 
 Keith Anderson/Larson Newspapers
 

Danny Watkins, director of the YouthStep program on the Verde Campus of Yavapai College, will be asking the same question of his 15 troubled students this summer.

YouthStep takes 15 kids between the ages of 14 and 17, all who have been in enough trouble to be on juvenile probation, and attempts to guide them toward good choices and a better life, according to Watkins.

This year’s theme is “Desire determines destiny.”

Watkins said each student that completes the program will be able to explain that theme.

Barbie Duncan, assistant dean of Student Services at the Verde Campus, said all students do not necessarily complete the program.

“Some might not make it. The behavior requirements are clear and some of these students have a history of bad choices” and just can’t conform, she said.

“Some were just in the wrong place at the wrong time or had poor role models. Some just have no self-esteem,” she said.

Watkins is an 11-year veteran teacher at the Cottonwood Middle School’s Bridgeway program.

He is in his second year heading up YouthStep.

The program puts the students through classes in the mornings and takes them to work in the afternoons Monday through Thursday.

Fridays are for community service projects that Watkins arranges for the group.

But the first Friday, he will be putting the kids through a “ropes” course to teach them how to work together and support each other.

Ropes challenge courses are often used by corporations to show employees how to develop strategies on how to work and plan together to accomplish a series of tasks.

“These kids are good at being loners. This course teaches them how to work together,” Watkins said.

The next Friday will have a lot of impact.

The kids will be taken to prison.

They will be taken to the Red Rock Correctional Facility in Eloy, Watkins said. There they will get a presentation from the Concerned Offenders for Youth Awareness.

COYA is an organization created by prison inmates and “It is an eye-opener. It is pretty raw and graphic,” Watkins said. “They speak to youth at risk. They hold nothing back”

YouthStep gets staff and logistical support from Youth Count, a Prescott-based non-profit AmeriCorps-eligible social service program.

Lori Deutsh, director of Youth Count in Prescott, and Watkins find local employers who are willing to have these student juvenile offenders work at their establishments.

“The community partnerships are an integral part. These students often lack a sense of community and that they can come out of the program with jobs,” Deutsh said.


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