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The Miami Youth Academy houses up to 28 boys from 14 to 18 years old, who are sent there by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. The students publish stories and poems for their student newspaper Titan Tribune, which they produce in a journalism class run by Exchange for Change, a local nonprofit group that teaches writing classes in youth commitment and adult correctional facilities. Retired newspaper reporter Henry Unger has taught the class for nearly two years in collaboration with the academy and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

The following stories discuss the most important things these students learned during the school year.

Never Be Scared to Ask for Help

By S. H.

This school year taught me a lot of stuff I did not know before I got here.

I learned to never be scared to ask for help. Before, I was scared to ask, because I worried about what my peers would say. But now I do not have a problem with that.

My advice for people who are scared to ask for help is to not let anyone judge you based on your knowledge. Face your fears. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do.

In terms of subjects, I learned how to solve new math problems, such as finding the slope and dividing fractions.

I also learned how to use new transition words in my essays and how to write sentences properly.

Finally, I learned how to handle and prepare food. I earned my SafeStaff certificate.

Staying on Track

By T. H.

I learned how to stay on track. This one stuck with me because in order for me to go home, I have to do it.

Another thing I learned was that everybody is not your friend. Some people just want something out of you.

I also learned that your work is your work. Don’t give it to anybody else. If you do, you get an F, and I can’t afford any bad grades.

Finally, at the beginning of the year, it was hard for me to talk with my peers. I didn’t know anybody.

After being here for a month, I gradually talked to people and started to get to know them. This was hard for me because I am not a friendly person and don’t like meeting new people. That’s the thing I learned the most – trying to do new things.

Capable of Getting Straight As

By K. R.

There are plenty of important things I learned this school year. One thing is that I’m capable of getting straight As and that ADHD can’t stop me.

Another thing was that I used to think taking the GED tests was too hard, but now I think I can do it.

I also learned how to get motivated and stay focused. At the beginning of the year, it was hard for me to stay awake and complete my assignments. But now it’s easier because I’ve learned the importance of school and to listen to what is being taught.

Be More Respectful

By Y. P.

(Translated from Spanish)

I have learned to be more respectful.

I also have learned more English, so I can communicate better. Before, I did not know any.

With the assignments that the teachers give me, I understand much more now. I do all my homework. That is different from when I attended school on the outside, where I didn’t like doing my homework. In that school, many subjects were difficult for me to understand, such as math.

Now at MYA, everything is easier for me, including math and history. The teachers have helped me.

Controlling My Emotions

By J. S.

The most important thing I learned was how to control my emotions.

At the beginning, I was arguing with Ms. Edith Meneses. As the year went on, I talked with my therapist about that. She taught me about self-control.

So now, Ms. Edith and I are good. She has motivated me to do my work, which had been hard for me to do before.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

The students at the Miami Youth Academy wrote these stories for their newspaper Titan Tribune, a collaborative effort by the facility, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Exchange for Change, a Miami-based non-profit group that supports writing programs in youth commitment and adult correctional facilities. The students work on the paper in a journalism class taught by retired journalism teacher Henry Unger. The writers are identified by their initials to protect their identities.