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Education

JU Juvenile Justice Program Helps Break Down Stereotypes

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Rhema Thompson
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Twenty-six Duval County high school students were at Jacksonville University Thursday afternoon to cap of their final day in a special course aimed at tackling issues of perceptions, community and the justice system.

The course, entitled Media and Crime, was developed three years ago by JU Sociology Professor Shelley Grant.

In the wake of high-profile cases of slain youths Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, it takes on a new kind of relevance.

"[The students] want to talk about what’s relevant and what’s going on in our country and how things are perceived so a large part of this class is looking at perceptions of criminal activity versus what’s going on in real life," she said.

In the class, students examine community perceptions about the criminal justice system - including their own - with an emphasis on juvenile justice. They also look at how the media shapes those views. But the students don’t just discuss it in a classroom - they confront it in an up close and personal way.

The course is a partnership between Jacksonville University and dropout prevention group Communities In Schools. Each of the 26 students in the college course are paired as mentors with a student from Arlington Middle, Ft. Caroline Middle or Terry Parker High School.

Each of the 26 students in the college course are paired as mentors with a student from Arlington Middle, Ft. Caroline Middle or Terry Parker High schools all located in JU’s Arlington neighborhood. Most deal with challenges that span outside the classroom.

"There’s a lot of risk factors," said Dane Gilbert, a Communities in Schools coordinator for Terry Parker High. "It might be because they’re doing poorly, maybe some emotional problems. It might be just family situations but all the kids need a mentor."

Grant says its the relationships the relationships built between mentors and mentees that breakdown stereotypes and preconceived notions.

"After they’ve mentored and worked with kids that could be in the same situations that we’re seeing in the media, their perceptions changed," she said.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.