Broadening participation in computer science is a passion of mine. My interest is not limited to improving access and engagement by women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities. I am equally concerned with improving access and opportunity for students in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems as their educational needs are disproportionately unmet. 

To this end, I managed to talk one of my colleagues, Liann Seiter, a former State Liaison for the National Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Neglected or Delinquent Children and Youth, into hosting a webinar on teaching computer science and using educational technology in alternative settings such as:

  • juvenile detention and corrections,
  • afterschool programs,
  • evening reporting centers,
  • community learning centers,
  • youth transition centers,
  • residential treatment centers,
  • group homes, and
  • runaway/homeless shelters.

The webinar (AdobeConnect recording) highlighted two juvenile justice schools in Wyoming that are offering “Start from Scratch,” a nationwide initiative of the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings (CEEAS) designed to expose students to computer science and empower them to create personal, animated stories around the theme of restorative justice. I think so highly of this initiative that I blogged about it on the CS for All Teachers site. On the webinar, CEEAS staff discussed how they got started, what innovative technology they are using in the classrooms, and what obstacles they have overcome to expose their students to cutting edge technology in the juvenile justice setting.

Teaching computer science, let alone teaching with technology, is particularly difficult in juvenile justice settings due to perceived risks to security and safety raised by correctional agency personnel (as opposed to instructional staff). Correctional policy related to the use of technology typically supersedes state and local education policy in secure care facilities even when school district staff are responsible for the academic program. As a result, instructional staff must negotiate and compel youth access to technology, put extensive safeguards in place, and provide exemplars of peers across the country who have safely implemented technology programs in nontraditional settings.

For example, in order to grant incarcerated students access to the Oregon Department of Education’s Virtual School District which provides free, online teaching and learning resources—including customized curricula for secure-care classrooms—proponents had to convince lawmakers that youth in the juvenile justice system should be afforded comparable educational opportunity as their peers in non-secure classrooms to ensure successful transitions back to the community and to best prepare them for college and career.  The Oregon legislature eventually enacted Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR) Chapter 416, Division 040, which provides guidelines for the acceptable use of electronic networks by youth in custody.

Although the challenge of obtaining access to technology is largely unique to underresourced schools and secure care facilities, computing educators in traditional academic settings can certainly identify with technical barriers and administrator resistance to computer literacy and computer science education as well as benefit from the instructional strategies teachers in alterative settings have successfully implemented. Below I share some of the effective strategies and lessons learned presented in the webinar. I encourage you to view the recording (AdobeConnect) to hear from the teachers themselves.

Steps to Integrating Technology in Alternative Settings

  1. Cultural Change. To gain support for allowing students to access the Internet, a cultural shift among facility administration, staff, and teachers needs to take place.
  2. Low Hanging Fruit. Find things you can implement immediately to begin building little wins that can lead to bigger successes.
  3. Responsible Use Policies. Determine concrete expectations you have for students when they are online. Write the policies, post them, teach them, and support them.
  4. Teach Digital Citizenship. Equip your students with the knowledge and skills to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly online and with mobile devices. Learn more at:

Effective Instructional Approaches in Alternative Settings

  • 3D Printing. Provide students access to a 3D printer. Some juvenile justice facilities have sold holiday ornaments made with the 3D printers!
  • Mystery Skype. Invite experts to talk with your class via Skype.
  • Google for Education. Google provides tools to enhance educational opportunities and provides training for teachers. Learn more at:  
  • Twitter. Teachers can use Twitter to share projects from juvenile justice classrooms and connect with other juvenile justice teachers.
  • Coding and Programming. Encourage students to code through programs like Hour of Code or by teaching JavaScript and Karel, which allows for creative problem solving.  
  • Makerspace. Creative, DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn and often include a 3D printer. Learn more at:

Ensuring Security while Providing Flexibility Needed for Working with Youth

  1. Monitoring Software. Faronics Insight is a monitoring software that has become an added tool for collaboration that allows teachers remote control a student’s screen, share the teacher or students’ screen, or send private messages, in addition to the monitoring features such as limiting the websites students can access, or view browsing history or recent keystrokes.
  2. Multiple layers. Build layers of security including digital citizenship trainings, monitoring software, and a firewall. 
  3. Responses to Violations of Responsible Use Policies. Expect that students will misbehave, not fully comprehend the magnitude and severity of their actions. Plan accordingly with unambiguous, widely communicated, and consistently executed disciplinary policies. Consider nonexclusionary and positive approaches to discipline even when student infractions are destructive and/or costly. Use the incidents as a “teachable moment” that allows misbehaving students to:
    • Develop a better understanding of the short and long term implications of their actions both within and outside of the classroom. Restorative circles are particularly effective in this regard.
    • Regain any lost privileges.


Dr. Lauren Amos is Associate Director for Research and Evaluation at the Manhattan Strategy Group where she specializes in the study of teaching, learning and interventions designed to increase access to STEM education and other academic opportunities for underrepresented minority, economically disadvantaged, and incarcerated students across the K‐ 16 continuum. Her teaching background includes middle school computer science and humanities, K-8 computer literacy, and postsecondary web and database development. She has conducted professional development workshops on computer-supported project-based learning environments and has authored various humanities and social studies curricula that integrate the use of technology such as agent-based modeling environments to support inquiry-based teaching at the elementary, middle and secondary school levels.