Upper School program includes a week of art, film, speakers and workshops.
Now in its eighth year, Crossroads’ biennial Juvenile Justice Forum is a day set aside for Upper School students to consider issues relating to young people who are in foster care and/or incarcerated and to build bridges between teens inside and outside those systems. Upper School English teacher Nika Cavat was inspired to create the event after working as a volunteer for InsideOUT Writers, a nonprofit that provides creative writing classes inside juvenile detention facilities.
“In moving between these two radically different worlds—that of our private school, Crossroads, and juvenile hall—what became immediately apparent were the huge gaps in economic opportunity, education, and physical and mental health,” explains Nika. “What also emerged was how much these two groups of students had in common, specifically the need for mentorship, laughter, creativity and love. At the center of the Juvenile Justice Forum is a firm and abiding belief that, by closing the gap, we allow students from across the spectrum to come together and learn from one another.”
This year’s theme of mental health was selected by Crossroads’ Upper School Student Council. With the support of council members, as well as a faculty advisory committee, Nika and 10th grader Ella Grossman organized the project, which grew quickly from a one-day event to a week-long program running May 2-6.
The week began with an art exhibition on campus featuring Blaze Bautista, a recent UCLA graduate whose artwork focuses on social justice issues, as well as Crossroads students. Curated by 11th grader Ruby Port, the show included works that address a range of social issues, such as mass incarceration and racial inequities, as well as personal stories.
These topics were echoed later in the week at a screening of films by Crossroads students and filmmakers from Kids in the Spotlight, a nonprofit that empowers foster youth through filmmaking.
The project culminated on Friday with an assembly for all Upper School students. Keynote speaker Regina Louise shared the story of her early life in multiple foster homes as well as her journey to becoming an author and motivational speaker. Her authenticity and charisma resonated deeply with students, many of whom lined up after her talk to share a hug. Her presentation was followed by a panel discussion of teen mental health issues and strategies with a diverse group of mental health professionals, activists and community leaders.
After the assembly, students attended workshops on everything from creating healthy relationships to meditation to gardening, all designed to support mental health. “We wanted a balance of experiences in the workshops,” says Ella. “Some encouraged deep and meaningful discussions while others offered opportunities for self-care and well-being.”
“Feedback from students and faculty has been so positive,” reports Nika. “It’s always been our hope that Juvenile Justice Forum Day will continue in perpetuity, that it will keep evolving to become as much a part of the institution of Crossroads as the school-wide Alleyween or culminating senior trip.”
The powerful, positive impact of this year’s program will no doubt leave everyone in the Upper School community fully supportive of that vision.