Earlier this month, I took a trip to the Fairfax County Juvenile Detention Center. It was my first time visiting a jail of any kind, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived.
The reason for my trip was to report on one of the lesser-known entities within the Fairfax County school system: the Juvenile Detention Center school.
The school has 18 teachers, and all of the inmates are required to attend classes Monday through Friday.
On the day of my visit, there were 44 inmates at the center. The majority were teenagers and juveniles, although there were a handful who had turned 18 inside the jail.
I arrived at the school that morning just before 7 a.m. Shortly afterward, I watched all of the students walk to class. They looked like your average teenagers on a school morning: sleepy-eyed, yawning, gangly and pimpled. They were not at all intimidating — these were not the “hardened criminals” that you read about in paperback cop novels.
They were just kids.
Here are some things I was surprised to learn about the Juvenile Detention Center school program:
The school is funded entirely by the Virginia Department of Education. Not a single Fairfax County public school dollar is spent on the school, although the teachers are technically Fairfax employees.
I was also surprised to hear that some of the students were from other counties in Virginia, and some were from the District, Maryland and even Ohio.
In other words, kids from all around the region — and beyond — are sent to the Juvenile Detention Center if they are arrested in Fairfax County.
I wrote at length about the school last week. But I intend to go back and check on the school as the year progresses.
If you know of any other interesting school programs in Fairfax that don’t get a lot of news coverage, send me an e-mail at shapirot [at] washpost [dot] com.