RANDOLPH, N.Y. — MARCH 12, 2021 — Randolph Academy, which supports, empowers and educates children with emotional and mental health disabilities, takes pride in sharing its expertise with anyone who is interested. Whether an educator works in a nearby district or one that is hundreds of miles away, its staff are always happy to share their knowledge of Restorative Justice and students with disabilities. They especially welcome the chance to work with the next generation of educators and leaders.

With campuses in Randolph and Hamburg, the district has more than a dozen colleges and universities nearby, providing ample opportunities to give student teachers a classroom experience that is unlike any they’ve probably had — on either side of the desk.

However, the district discovered recently that it offers unique value for another group of students: Criminal Justice majors. Because of the challenging circumstances many of Randolph Academy students face in their lives, it has developed a new connection with these budding professionals who seek to understand aspects of the judicial and social work sectors as they relate to childhood education, safety and development.

This past fall, the campuses began hosting interns from the Department of Sociocultural & Justice Sciences at the State University of New York at Fredonia. These students have worked closely with the Academy’s teachers, staff and administrators, developing a rapport that’s allowing their program to build momentum and meaningful connections across the region.

“We really enjoy working with interns as they navigate their career paths and determine what settings are right for them,” said Randolph Academy Restorative Justice Coordinator Laura Heeter. “Our (K-12) students have often been exposed to difficult conditions, and it’s incredibly valuable for these young professionals to see those challenges up close and in person. It provides a whole new perspective that can guide them in their careers — and hopefully inspire them to go that extra mile for these kids.”

Most college students find that internships enhance their understanding and appreciation of what they’ve learned in the classroom, once they apply their knowledge in a professional setting.

“Our Criminal Justice students quickly discover that learning outside the classroom is an essential component of their education,” explained Patrick Johnson, a Fredonia faculty member and retired warden of the Chautauqua County state prison. “Internships help to develop our students’ self-directed learning skills and allow them to evaluate how they fit in the field they’re studying.”

One of his students is senior Keith Leonard, a Long Island native preparing to take his New York State Trooper exams. He’s also considering law school. Regardless of his eventual career, he sees how beneficial restorative practices are for children with emotional disabilities.

“This internship has helped me realize the importance of building relationships with kids, and how that approach is much more fruitful than a punitive one,” said Leonard of his Hamburg campus experience. “It wasn’t something I had experienced or really considered before.”

Tracy Brown, a Falconer, N.Y. native and intern at the Randolph campus, was particularly impressed by how our school changes the trajectory for students, keeping them out of the school-to-prison pipeline.

“They’re catching these kids before it’s too late,” Brown said. “By identifying these students and helping them grow using circle practice, it keeps them from landing in some juvenile facility.”

“I really like seeing that you can get through to these kids without using traditional suspensions,” added Hamburg intern Janiya Carter, a senior from Niagara Falls, N.Y. “Solving incidents by building relationships and using dialog is a much more effective, longer-lasting approach.”

Beyond the classroom experience, internships also help students develop relationships with real-world practitioners who help them set career goals and strengthen their ethics and values.

“Of course, internships can also lead to employment, either at the organization where they’re working or through the many connections that their hosts have,” Johnson reminds his students.

“As a teacher, I’m thrilled to share what I know with this next generation! It’s a privilege as well as a responsibility,” Heeter added. “Best of all, I usually learn something from our interns along the way, and that always makes for a great day.”

About Randolph Academy

The Randolph Academy Union Free School District supports, empowers and educates children in grades K-12 who have a variety of emotional and mental health disabilities stemming from various causes and conditions. The nearly 200-student district is comprised of a residential campus, whose origins trace back to the 1860s in Randolph, N.Y. and serves students from throughout the state, and a day school in Hamburg, N.Y., which serves students from dozens of districts across Western New York.

With a flexible structure and non-traditional classrooms, Randolph Academy focuses on the power of relationships to help students achieve academic progress, with the ultimate goal of graduating high school and preparing for life as productive adults. Its staff are experts in the concepts of Normative Culture, a sociological method using positive peer pressure to influence behavior rather than a system of rules, and Restorative Justice, an alternative to suspensions and other punitive approaches. Through specialized academic instruction and therapeutic interventions, students achieve Regents and local diplomas, as well as Career Exit Credentials. To learn more, visit www.randolphacademy.org.