Changing Lives Through Literature in Bristol County, Part 1

Recently, I interviewed Estella Rebeiro, senior juvenile probation officer at the Reclaiming Futures site in Bristol County, MA, about a local implementation of the Changing Lives Through Literature program, which I introduced in a post last month. Ms. Rebeiro is also a certified schoolteacher and has served as co-facilitator of the Changing Lives through Literature Program for the local juvenile court since 2001. (See part two of her interview here.)  
What are your overall impressions of Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL)?
It’s the most exciting and rewarding thing I do as part of my job at the court. I’m elated to even talk about it.

Our juvenile court has several alternative sanctions to detention. CLTL is the most well-received, and the kids really enjoy it -- which is amazing, because these are kids who have done horribly in school, they’re often court-involved because of school-related problems, etc. Yet they do really well in the program.
The kids come up with phenomenal writing. They don’t realize they have the potential, don’t think what they have to say is important. And you see small things that show you how important it is, like when we had a group of 17-year-olds from very tough areas who wanted to come to class. I said, “You don’t have to come during vacation,” yet they wanted to come. And we had a college professor take on a gang kid as a mentee, and the kid’s now on the Governor’s Council and is planning to go to college.
The program’s contagious. I mentioned it to someone, and then suddenly the director of a local theatre called, wanting to get involved. She gave us complimentary tickets to take all the kids to a stage performance of To Kill a Mockingbird, which we’d read in our group. These were kids with no resources, who had never been to a theatre – and here they could see a play and relate to it because they’d read the book. To see a performance for the first time through their eyes, that was amazing. These are kids who have never read a book before, telling me now they enjoyed reading, and wanted to do more of it.
How do you determine which youth take part?
Usually, the probation officer recommends CLTL to the court just prior to disposition, though sometimes the decision comes from the bench at disposition. And all of the kids in our Second Chance Drug Court take part in it.
So are you cherry-picking only the “good” kids?
No, we take ‘em all! They can be truants, they can be gang members, and it all works – that’s the magical thing about it.
I think it’s because it’s a non-judgmental type of setting where everyone participates equally. The judge sits in, and she’s treated just like everyone else. Same with the professor, attorney, and the probation officer.
Everyone answers the same questions, and does the same exercises. Everyone feels valued, and the youth are listened to – often, they feel heard for the first time. They can’t believe they’re sitting at the table with a judge, a professor, and a probation officer, and we’re all equal. 

Go to part two of the interview

Reading's not the only literary path to positive youth development. Youth can get a lot of therapy out of writing poetry

Updated: February 08 2018