LAGRANGE — For about 90 minutes Wednesday morning, Dr. Adolph Brown taught a master class about self, good decision making, and personal insight to LaGrange County high school juniors and seniors.
More than 650 students from Lakeland, Westview, and Prairie Heights gathered inside the Lakeland High School auditorium to hear Brown speak. His visit was sponsored by the LaGrange County Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative program. LaGrange County JDAI coordinator Randy Merrifield said he and others from the community created the event to help those students understand they’re a part of a larger community, and learning the people who make up that community care.
Brown, an author, a humorist, a tenured professor and educator, took the stage and quickly grabbed the attention of his audience Using music, laughter, and stories about his own life, he aimed his message about making good decisions directly at the students seated before him. Brown said his goal is that those students walk away from his session thinking about what he said.
“I’m not a motivational speaker, so I’m not concerned with how they felt while I was here. I’m more concerned about what they do when I leave,” Brown explained.
Brown said his presentation is built around teaching his audience two basic things.
“I wanted them to know it’s important to believe in yourself. And, that I have a team around them, a village of adults, who will believe in them until they do even when they don’t,” he explained. “There’s no secret to any of this. The choices you make will eventually make you. Every decision you make has a future.”
Wednesday program was created by the LaGrange County JDAI with help from the LaGrange County Sheriff’s Office, as well as 35 community sponsors. Those sponsors set up small booths in the school’s gym students visited after Brown’s talk.
Merrifield said he was happy with how the student responded to Brown.
“I’m very excited how well this came off,” he said. “The kids were all involved as he talked. They were really paying attention. It turn out as good as I expected it to be.”
Merrifield said she decided to bring Brown to LaGrange to speak to students after seeing him speak at a different event.
Brown called Wednesday’s session a classroom experience.
“I’m a master teacher, I’m a tenured full processor and this was a class I just conducted. I’m not a motivational speaker. I’m an educator. Everything I do comes from a place of transferring learning,” Brown said. “It’s differentiated teaching strategies, understanding that everyone is different. So maybe some got it from the lecture, some got it from the demonstration, some got it from a song I picked out and actually had lyrics that supported what I was saying. So it’s all about understanding that every student learns differently.”
JDAI was created to give judges and communities an alternative to placing every kid who gets into minor trouble into a juvenile detention facility. The program tries to be preemptive, working with kids to help them make better decisions in life and avoid getting into trouble in the first place.
Merrifield works closely with local police departments, county judges, and community organizations. The teens who do wind up in the JDAI system are given a chance to learn from their mistakes rather than simply be punished. In order to reinforce that message, JDAI teens work on various community-based projects around the county, such as working in parks.
Westview High School Principal Rich Cory said Brown’s message Wednesday helps reinforce the message educators try to teach students every day.
“I loved it,” he said. “He reinforced the message we’re always telling our students, that it’s about making better choices, and about how to be better today than we were yesterday.”
JDAI has been gaining support across the state, and one of its biggest advocates, Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David, attended Wednesday’s event in LaGrange. Justice David said he was impressed with how well the program went.
“I had really high expectations for this and it exceed those,” Justice David said. “This is darn near impossible to put this many kids in one place and keep their attention for more than three minutes, but Dr. Brown did that for 90 minutes. They were totally engaged and immersed in his message.”
David said JDAI programs similar to the one in LaGrange County are now in place in most counties across Indiana and that they’re doing what they were intended to do, keeping most children out of juvenile facilities.
“This program has grown far beyond just alternatives to detention, and giving judges and communities more choices in dealing with teens. It’s about understanding the teen brain and teaching the teen brain. It’s part of the ongoing process of juvenile justice reform, learning what we can do better, and how we can keep our kids out of the system and give them the pathways they need. It’s a community effort.