How does a student (or adult) become considered a “lost cause?” Does a person become a “lost cause” because of their unacceptable behavior or because those who could help lack the energy/resources to do so? Perhaps a better question is “is there really such a thing as a ‘lost cause’?” Judge Jimmie Edwards of St. Louis, MO doesn’t think so.
The story of Judge Jimmie Edwards was featured in both the October 10th and November 7th issue of People Magazine and made me re-think the issue of the “lost cause” student. Jimmie Edwards has held a circuit court judge role since 1992, and has seen countless men and women come through the court system, be sentenced, released, and return to a life of crime. In 2007, he moved to the juvenile court division in hopes of stopping the cycle of crime while children are still impressionable.
In 2009 took his vision a step further by opening the Innovative Concept Academy. This alternative school is seen as a last resort for many young teens who appear in Judge Edwards’ court room ready to be sentenced. Students who have been kicked out of multiple school districts and are likely to continue a life of crime can find new hope at the Innovative Concept Academy.
However, this “last chance” opportunity is no walk in the park. Judge Edwards’ philosophy is that these students need structure. They wear uniforms, have mandatory classes, and are expected to participate in additional school activities. In fact, he says one important part of making the Innovative Concept Academy successful is keeping the students so busy that they don’t have time to get in trouble. In addition, they are exposed to more than just basic Math, English, and History classes. They also learn about golf, fashion, chess (which strengthens critical thinking skills), playing the piano, and even ballroom dancing. As Judge Edwards said in People Magazine, you can’t dream about something you don’t know exists.
These children who have been expelled from other schools for gang related activities, fighting, and assault are now improving their grades, refusing to quit learning, and even graduating. They are learning the importance of speaking with proper grammar, communicating with confidence, and dressing professionally.
Though the program has only been active for 2 years, it is still too early to gauge the long term effect these life lessons will have. However, of the 700 students who have attended Innovation Concept Academy so far, only 4 have returned to jail. That is a remarkable statistic given the fact that these children were once deemed a “lost cause.”
Judge Jimmie Edwards thought differently. He saw a cycle and wanted to break it. He took the expelled and helped them learn to engage. Where others saw only failure, Judge Edwards saw opportunity. Judge Jimmie Edwards taught these students (once seen as a menace to society) to STOP and THINK.
Kudos to Judge Jimmie Edwards and the staff of Innovative Concept Academy for re-thinking the concept of the “lost cause” and changing the life story for these children.
How can you make a difference today?