Youth for Tomorrow has plenty of success stories; adults who are today living good lives because the school was there when they needed an alternative setting to get back on track. There are plenty of tragedies, too. Students who left and were killed in street violence, ended up in jail, or who just never came anywhere near realizing their potential. That is the ragged work characterizing these overlooked outposts of American education.
Lawmakers and parents understandably do not want disruptive or dangerous students in school. But we cannot simultaneously demand "zero tolerance" and fail to build a network of quality alternative placements. We likewise cannot expect students who have made serious mistakes to bootstrap themselves.
At Rikers I sat with eight inmates in District 79's adult education program as they discussed how to manage the transition to life outside of jail. Reflecting on the diminished options he faced one young man remarked "well, that's why we should've gone to school." Sure, except life is not that simple. So state and national policymakers must do more to bring quality education to where students are—even if that is in places with bars and razor wire.