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Bugsy Siegel is 15-year-old Kayla's favorite gangster because he built the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.

She learned about him and others who figured prominently in 1920s America in Karla Williams' special day class serving young women detained at L.A.'s Central Juvenile Hall.

They're studying U.S. history between the two world wars. The girls are fascinated with gangsters, the Harlem Renaissance and the era's innovations.

Williams' 12 students, each of whom has a developmental or other disability, are fully engaged in creating projects about this period in history.

Kayla is excited to show off her gangster-themed board game. Before being detained at Central three months ago, she was getting all F's in school. Now she's getting C's.

"Actually I wasn't going to school on the outside," she added.

Juvenile offenders served by LACOE at Central weren't always as engaged in learning. But these troubled youth are now showing marked improvement in school since the site launched the Office's award-winning Road To Success Academy model of instruction in September.

The approach features interdisciplinary, project-based learning focused on themes that address the academic and social-emotional needs of incarcerated youth.

Teacher Williams has seen a turnaround in her classroom with the new approach.

"My students are enthusiastic about the hands-on learning and use of technology. They feel empowered. They're seeing results and the connection between different subjects," she said.

Williams also credits the RTSA approach with reducing classroom fights from four per week to only one in the past four months.

Nearly half of the 200 young people placed at Central have some type of diagnosed disability and may stay at the facility from a few days to a few months -- eight days on average.

It's a brief window to make a difference with young people at the highest risk of failure.

"We don't have time to waste," said LACOE Principal Rondale Cooper. "And with the RTSA approach we're seeing kids come in and get engaged and excited about school -- often on their very first day."

Preliminary tests show students are increasing their reading scores, on average, by two months of grade level in 60 days.

Eighteen-year-old Marlon has earned his high school diploma at Central and is working with a proctor to complete a community college health course.

"The RTSA program is connecting education to my personal life -- I can relate to it," Marlon said. "I used to think I wasn't going anywhere. But when I learned about the industrial revolution and development of machinery, it showed me I can change and move forward."

Improvements at Central also include $6,000 in school facility upgrades, including fresh paint, carpet and furniture.

Learn more about RTSA here.

Learn more about LACOE's Juvenile Court Schools here.

Photos: Proctor Marisol Ramirez assists student Marlon in completing a community college course; a student at Central works on his project; teacher Karla Williams helps student Kayla with her project.
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