Randolph Academy discovers benefits of new partnerships with Criminal Justice interns

Randolph Academy takes pride in sharing its expertise with anyone who is interested. Whether you work in a nearby district or one hundreds of miles away, we’re always happy to share our knowledge of Restorative Justice and teaching students with disabilities – and we especially welcome the chance to work with the next generation of educators and leaders.

With two campuses in Western New York, we’re lucky to have more than a dozen colleges and universities among us. We welcome opportunities to work with student teachers and give them a unique classroom experience that is unlike any they’ve probably had — on either side of the desk.

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

This past fall we 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 our 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,” says 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.”

Randolph Academy’s Restorative Justice Coordinator Laura Heeter with Criminal Justice Major Keith Leonard from the Department of Sociocultural & Justice Sciences at the State University of New York at Fredonia

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,” explains 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,” says 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,” attests Brown, pictured above with a student. “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,” adds 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.

Senior Criminal Justice Major Janiya Carter works with a student.

“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 adds. “Best of all, I usually learn something from our interns along the way, and that always makes for a great day.”