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Missouri's Innovative Concept Academy: One Powerful Idea

Boxing Ring in the Missouri Innovative Concept Academy

Kate McCracken I CJCJ Media

When juvenile justice advocates think of Missouri, they automatically think of the nationally recognized Missouri Model. This model incorporates best practices, such as small normalized living units, into youth correctional facilities for the state’s highest risk youth. It goes without saying these facilities are remarkable and demonstrate promising facility designs for other jurisdictions. On a recent visit to the Midwestern state, I learned of another jewel, the Innovative Concept Academy (ICA).

The ICA is an alternative educational school for at-risk youth in St. Louis City, Missouri. The school, established by juvenile court Judge Jimmie Edwards in 2009, is designed to address risk factors in the community that negatively impact youth. This provides a one-stop service center for youth residing in the city, through partnership with MERS/Goodwill, St. Louis Public Schools, and the Family Court-Juvenile Division.

Walking through the halls of the school, staff highlighted unique features designed to engage youth’s strengths and interests, motivating them to move forward on the right path. For example, an attendance roster was listed on a bulletin board indicating each student’s engagement at school. Another motivational tool was a wall full of student’s recent tests covered with bright and large handwritten notes of support such as “way to go” and “you did it.” Staff expressed these are intentional ways that they praise youth in the hopes of building intrinsic motivation. 

ICA serves approximately 150 students at a time, but open their doors to all at-risk youth for their afterschool programs. These activities are geared towards promoting academic enrichment, social skill development, and athletics. Afterschool activities range from mentoring, fitness, culinary arts, tutoring, job readiness, leadership, and life skills. This willingness to share services with the greater community is an invaluable resources for local juvenile service officers who work with high-needs youth every day. 

So, what was so remarkable about this school? Was it the focus on the development of applicable life skills? Yes. Was it the desire to motivate students to succeed? Yes. Was it the dedication to community engagement? Yes. It was also the staff’s commitment to trying something different.

ICA leadership developed this school to address a specific problem in their community: youth cycling through the justice system. With a specific focus and commitment, Judge Jimmie Edwards and partners thought outside the box and created an environment designed to work for the youth in St. Louis City.

The vision for the school is best summed up by Judge Edwards when describing the youth thriving in ICA’s hallways,

“School uniforms replaced gang colors, dreams replaced nightmares, and a whole new world of possibilities entered their minds.”

ICA demonstrates how law enforcement leadership can work with community partners to develop localized strategies, which address local youth crime. It shows how one powerful idea can come to life when you are willing to think outside the box and challenge the status quo.

Keywords: best practices, education, Juvenile justice, Missouri model

Posted in Blog, Model Local Practices

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