Pell Grant Cuts Begin in Summer School

Financial Aid office, Kennesaw State University. Photo: Clay Duda/JJIE

It might make for a more leisurely summer, but Kennesaw State University student Steven Welch didn’t dump college courses to have more free time. He did it because he couldn’t afford the cost.

Welch, 24, had to make the move because he no longer qualified for a Pell Grant to cover the cost of summer tuition.

Restrictions on the grant program, long used to help low-income and some middle-class students stem the cost of higher education, were enacted by Congress last year -- but students are feeling the impact for the first time this summer as the changes are implemented across the country.

Before this summer, students could use more than the allotted $5,550 per year to help cover the cost of tuition and other school related expenses. Now, however, Congress has mandated that a student may not exceed a total of $5,550 per academic year, among other updates to the program.

The changes for many students come at a particularly harsh time, when student debt is at record levels and the number of students eligible for Pell assistance based on financial need is on the rise.

“I’m only taking two summer classes instead of four, and I’m paying out of pocket,” Welch said.

“Having the Pell Grant has been good,” he said, noting that it saved him from having to take out additional student loans to finance his college career. “Not everyone can pay out-of-pocket or don’t have good enough credit to get student loans, so it helps those in need.”

Amended from previous financial aid legislation and established in 1972 as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, the federally ran Pell Grant program has long offered assistance to students pursuing an undergraduate degree at public and private colleges across the United States without the obligation of repayment after graduation.

The percentage of college-aged students receiving the grant has increased in recent years, up to 35 percent during the 2010-2011 school year compared with 20 percent a decade earlier, according to Education Department reports.

Kennesaw State University sophomore Dennys Rosales, 19, checks with the Financial Aid Office to see if his summer tuition will still be covered by the Pell Grant.
Kennesaw State University sophomore Dennys Rosales, 19, (left) checks with the Financial Aid Office to see if his summer tuition will still be covered by the Pell Grant.

The program has also faced a number of challenges in the past few years. Operating costs have more than more than doubled since the start of the recession – from a little more than $16 billion during the 2008-2009 academic year, to about $36 billion in 2011 – due in large part to an influx of qualified, lower-income students.

The maximum yearly award has also grown under President Barack Obama from $4,731 to $5,550, yet the skyrocketing costs of tuition has left the largest gap ever between the price of attending college and the amount covered by the Pell Grant. For the 2010-2011 academic year, the Pell covered an average of 32 percent of tuition costs, compared to 72 percent of costs in 1976.

“Even with the grant program [students] are still left with a bill that’s more than half their costs at a public university,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of financial aid and scholarship resource sites and

Students receiving 100 percent of their yearly Pell allocation during the fall and spring semesters, but who still want to attend summer courses, will be forced to find another way to fund those classes, drop summer classes and stay in school longer, or ration Pell money awarded earlier in the year.

“The other options are basically student loans,” said Timothy Opgenorth, Director of Financial Aid at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Even in Illinois the state grants are only good for the fall and spring terms.”

Opgenorth expects to see at least some decline in student enrollment this summer due to the new Pell restrictions, he said.

“Obviously, being in financial aid, we want to see all students be able to go to school,” said Opgenorth, pointing out that about 50 percent of undergraduate students at UIC received some level of Pell funding in the past year. “The less financial aid funding available - whether that’s grants or that’s loans - makes it tough for low income families [to afford the costs of college].”

The changes also cut the maximum amount of Pell grant money students can receive in their lifetime by a third, and exclude undergraduate students who receive a bachelor’s degree prior to hitting their lifetime maximum.

The new lifetime award for Pell recipients has been capped at 12 semesters, or 600 percent of the annual maximum pay out, whichever comes first. The lifetime limit is down from 18 semesters, or 900 percent, during the 2011-12 academic year.

And the effects are retro active, impacting students who may have received any Pell funding since the program was started in the early 1970s. For an estimated 2 million students that means they no longer qualify for Pell Grant money this fall, regardless of when they received their first slice of funding from the program.

The Pell Grant has always been dedicated to helping finance undergraduate degrees, but in years past students had the option to apply for Pell funding if they returned post-graduation to pursue another undergraduate degree or to take additional classes – but not graduate school.

For some, like 23-year-old KSU student Careese Stephens, that change means staying in school longer.

Stephens, a psychology major and medical school hopeful, postponed her own graduation in an effort to hold onto financial aid while taking required pre-med classes that were not part of her major.

The Department of Education, which tracks the Pell Grant process and student eligibility, began sending e-mail notifications in April to students who no longer qualified or are nearing their lifetime maximum for the grant.

“It’s frustrating,” Stephens said. “I had everything planned out, and then I got that e-mail. It’s forcing me to look at options I otherwise wouldn’t need to.”


Budget Battle

Back on Capitol Hill, the battle over financial aid funding continues to warm as both sides push budget proposals for 2013, and grapple with a national deficit now equal to the nation’s economy (or 100 percent of GDP).

“Right now, the Pell Grant program is still facing a budget shortfall,” said Kantrowitz, publisher of “We’re in a situation where more money for one form of financial aid may mean less money for another form of financial aid.”

Under President Obama’s proposed budget, yearly Pell Grant awards would increase to $5,635 next year to mirror inflation, but a $7 billion projected shortfall for the program still lingers for 2014.

As an alternative, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed the so-called Ryan budget, a proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), calling for additional cuts to student financial aid and other spending in an effort to help reel in a federal deficit expanding faster than the economy.

In a budget hearing last month, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Ryan’s budget would have a “devastating impact on higher education.”

“It would cut almost $3 billion from Pell aid to students in 2013, eliminating almost 400,000 recipients, and reducing the awards of 9.3 million others,” Duncan said at the meeting. “It would also hurt borrowers and students at a time when average student loan debt for a graduating senior is already more than $25,000.”

The Ryan plan calls for a freeze on maximum Pell awards at $5,550, a yet-to-be-determined family income cap and the exclusion on many part-time students taking just one or two courses each year. It would also have Pell funding come up for annual review, leaving some funding advocates worried the program could face another round of cuts in the near future.

Celebrating the Power of the Still: Photography and its Place in Our Lives

Not too many years ago, the still photo was the domain of the professional and the dedicated hobbyist. Today, when school children routinely have iPhones at the ready, we’ve reached the point where the world is our collective subject, caught from a billion different angles.

And what a glorious addition to our gallery of life’s great riches it is, this daily chronicle of human life, the capture of otherwise forgotten moments, the tally of the small order of life's minutiae as well as the dramatic breaths in time that bring about outcries of emotion, the sparking of movements, the fall of governments.

With so many photos taken by so many photographers, though, the prevailing opinion may be that the art form has been eroded, that the cascade of mostly mediocre images pummels the viewer into disinterest. The riveting scene from a few years ago now ranges from mildly interesting to old hat.

But the truth is, stunningly wonderful photography exists at the top of the populace’s current body of work. These are the images produced by those who know the science of the trade and practice it with a passion, every day. You see their work in the giant metro papers, but also in galleries. The composition, if you will, is there. A nice picture, that on closer inspection tells a story that demands your attention and stirs your emotions.

Today, JJIE introduces Bokeh, what you might call our fine arts site. Here is a place where some very strong still images will reside, along with photo essays and written essays on the art of photography.

Some of this work will include those at top of the field. On Monday, we begin publishing photographer Richard Ross’ work. The Santa Barbara-based Ross spent five years photographing and interviewing some 1,000 inmates in youth detention centers all across the country. His project, Juvenile-In-Justice, was supported in part by the Guggenheim Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Other work on Bokeh (the name roughly means, ‘the aesthetic quality of the blur in that part of the unfocused image’) includes our own. Today, a photo essay, “Saturday in the Park,” by JJIE photographer Clay Duda runs on the site. This is our attempt to capture the voices and thoughts of kids on common, but important, questions of the day. (Click here or see the introduction to the essay below.)

And finally, through our partnerships with groups such as VOX Teen Communications, you’ll see the work of young photographers, the way they see the world and the issues dominant in their lives.

Youth as its subject and the quality of the work are the common threads in the photography of the professionals, the up-and-coming photojournalists and the dedicated beginners congregating on Bokeh.

What you see on Bokeh is meant to be craft, strong and compelling, a home for the best work on the issues of juvenile justice.

We hope you enjoy it.

The Poetic Days of Late Summer: Inside VOX’s Media Café

Thoughts of summertime and teens usually bring to mind images of baseball, swimming holes and lazy, nothing-filled afternoons. But nestled in the corner of a Midtown Atlanta high rise a group of teens have been passing the dog days of the season in a slightly different way.

For nearly two decades VOX Teen Communications has been honing the journalism and leadership skills of a diverse cross section of Atlanta teens. Each year more than a hundred pass through the newsroom doors or slide into the seat at one of their workshops.

During the school year, the non-profit publishes the city’s only teen-powered newspaper. Distributed for free through many metro area schools, each issue reaches about 90,000 peers. But with the lax summer months comes the freedom to move a bit beyond the news print.

“VOX Media Café is actually in it's inaugeral year. This is the first year that we've done this summer program,” said Rachel Alterman Wallack, executive director of VOX. “VOX has always provided summer programing for teens, but in the past we had a four-week journalism and leadership program, which was a great program but it only served 14 kids.”

Today, VOX’s Media Café program offers four, weeklong workshops that can handle about 40 students throughout the summer.

“And we were able to create content to teach kids based on what the teens in our program said they wanted to learn, which is how we came up with the VOX Media Café offerings,” Alterman Wallack said. “The first week was visual communication, and then interactive media. The third week was reporting, and then this week we're finishing up creative non-fiction.”

Like most everything else at VOX, the teens dictate their level of involvement with the program. Some attend for the course of the summer, and others for a single week.

For 17-year-old Paige Curtis this is her first, and last, week.

“Media Café, if you get the chance to do it definitely sign up because you'll learn so much about yourself and the way you write.” Curtis, a student at North Atlanta High School, said. “I love the hands on exposure you get to people in the field of writing.”

Throughout the summer, an award winning cast of lecturers have taught kids about everything from visual storytelling to the finer points of poetic imagery. Now on the final day, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey and Women of the World Slam Poetry Champion Theresa Davis are leading breakouts with about a dozen teens.

The pay off? A good, old-fashioned poetry slam.

“Slam poetry is competitive poetry where a poet presents original work, and the work is then scored by five random judges,” said Davis, currently the Women of the World Slam Poetry Champion. “It's been very challenging, but it's also very therapeutic for me and I love the idea of connecting with other people."

"I work with kids so much I want them to understand the inherent power of words and that that's a power they all have," she added.

But honestly there wasn’t much slamming going on inside the walls of VOX. As the day faded the group of young poets clapped, or rather snapped their fingers -– the poet’s applause -– as they took turns reading their original works.

The vox media cafe program will be back next summer. Teens who wish to be involved with VOX during the school year can join the program in October.


This story was produced in partnership with the Southern Education Desk.

States Respond to Budget Shortfalls with Hodgepodge of Juvenile Justice Cuts

Around the nation, states continue to grapple with the reality of budget shortfalls with a hodgepodge of cuts to various programs, including juvenile justice.


North Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is being forced to cut spending by 10 percent while eliminating roughly 275 positions, a 15 percent decrease in work force, under the new FY 2012 budget.

Also gone are 75 beds from the state’s seven youth development centers, raising concerns that serious offenders may end up back on the streets to make room for new juveniles entering the facilities.


Alabama’s Department of Child Abuse & Neglect Prevention has a FY 2012 budget a little more than half that of FY 2011. The department saw a 74 percent drop in general state funding and significant cuts from the federal-level.

“I don’t see the system being able to recover in my working lifetime,” said DCANP Director Kelly Parris-Barnes. “When you take the community level programs out you don’t have the capacity at the state level to do it.”

Not a direct service provider themselves, the DCANP allocates funds for community-based programs around the state. Of the 174 programs the department funded in FY 2011, just 101 are slated for FY 2012, according to Deputy Director Greg Smith.


On the surface, Idaho’s Department of Juvenile Corrections has seen an increase in funding heading into FY 2011-2012. The budget has increased, said Chief Fiscal Officer Scott Johnson, but the department also absorbed the now defunct Office of Drug Policy.

“The impact is huge,” Johnson said. “All we got was the money. We didn’t get any additional personnel for managing a $4 million program. We’re basically having to design a substance abuse program from the ground up.”

Overall the department saw a $1.1 million decrease in its operating budget, but has largely been able to offset the shortfall due to cost-cutting measures and a decrease in state population.


Maryland added $3.2 million to its Department of Juvenile Services for FY 2012, but the increase is expected to restore employee furlough days, according to a budget analysis outlined by Youth Today. The department still expects to see a reduction in evidence-based services.

Down 12 percent since FY 2011, Louisiana’s Department of Youth Services has seen more than a 20 percent decline in funding since FY 2008.

Texas has begun the closure of the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility in an effort to bridge a $117 million shortfall over the next two years.


States around the country have dealt with the decline in available funds for juvenile justice and other related programs in their own ways. This article is merely a snapshot of some of the realities on the ground.

Youth Today has started an open-ended compilation of state-by-state spending on juvenile justice, child welfare and youth to help make sense of all the numbers.



Playgrounds — To the Summit of the Monkey Bars

The future of parks in the present. Recognize anything from your childhood? -- Inman Park, Atlanta.

A few bumps, bruises and broken bones from playing on a playground might be good for kids after all. Playgrounds with safety features such as low height limitations and padded ground might be too safe, the New York Times reports, potentially preventing kids from developing emotionally and contributing to unnecessary anxiety later in life.

Risky play, such as climbing or wrestling, gradually exposes kids to dangers and helps them solve problems. What kids learn on the playground is a similar technique that therapists use to help conquer phobias in adults – starting small and working toward larger goals, such as reaching the top of the monkey bars – Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway, told the Times.

Some experts and parents disagree with the idea that playgrounds may be too safe, worrying fears may be introduced too early in a child’s life and ultimately develop into phobias. However, recent studies have shown quite the opposite, purporting that kids injured at a younger age are less likely to develop phobias toward risky behavior as those who didn’t experience the same life lessons.

“There is no clear evidence that playground safety measures have lowered the average risk on playgrounds,” David Ball, a risk management professor at Middlesex University in London, told the Times. “This sounds counterintuitive, but it shouldn’t … If children and parents believe they are in an environment which is safer than it actually is, they will take more risks. An argument against softer surfacing is that children think it is safe, but because they don’t understand its properties, they overrate its performance.”

Seesaws may be out, but spring-powered space ships look like they are here to stay -- Inman Park, Atlanta.

Another factor is boredom. While the added safety features may work great for toddlers, teenagers and older children may get bored with, say, the reduced height of the monkey bars and seek a more thrilling play experience in more dangerous environments, or not at all.

Long-time fixtures such as slides and seesaws have slowly vanished from America’s playgrounds in recent decades due to a number of reasons, including parental concerns, federal guidelines and the fear of lawsuit. Some consider the ultra-safe, enclosed playground platforms of the 80s and 90s an overreaction, but few seem willing to return to the rough-and-tumble days of playground’s past.

More recently, industry has introduced some creative solutions.

The monkey bars and tire swings may be out, but the next generation of doohickies and thing-a-ma-jigs are just starting to make their way into the every day lives of today’s youth.

Photography: Clay Duda, JJIE Staff


From She To He: A Transgender Journey of Self-Discovery

Connor Gillis

Just don't use pronouns in public. That's what C.G. usually tells his mother before they go out. Just call me by my nickname.

G. is not obsessed with grammar, but being born a female now living as a male, makes common pronouns like “he” and “she” a complicated issue. The transgender distinction is one that even the most shunned of the gay and lesbian community will often agree has the hardest plight of the oft-embattled LGBT community.

“Being transgender confuses people; it’s harder for people to grasp,” insists G., a 24-year-old from Atlanta, who prefers to be referred to by male pronouns. “People can more easily grasp the concept of gay or lesbian – being sexually attracted to someone of the same sex – but transgender is often an abstract concept to many people.”

Em Elliott, a field organizer for Georgia Equality and the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition -- Atlanta-based non-profit organizations that played an integral role in helping get critical school bullying legislation passed in the state Legislature last year -- says popular culture plays a major role.

“Transgender people have a lot more stigma working against them,” she says. “Over the years there’s been a lot more gay and lesbian characters on TV and in movies, but transgender people are rarely shown, and when they are they’re not usually shown in a positive light. People are afraid of it and they don’t want to know more about transgender people.”

Anneliese Singh, a University of Georgia (UGA) researcher who specializes in transgender issues, says gender identity and sexual orientation are often confused.

“Gender identity is how you identify your gender, versus gender expression which is how you express that gender,” she explains.

G.’s story is typical of others who identify as transgender, an estimated 700,000 people in the United States, according to a recent UCLA study. (C.G. requested that only his initials be used.)

G. first noticed an attraction to females at the age of 15, when a close friendship with a female classmate two years older evolved into a romantic attraction.

“I was kind of like, ‘this is pretty interesting and strange; maybe I’m gay,’” recalls G., then living as a female in rural Richmond Hill, Ga., a small town about a 30-minute drive from Savannah.

It didn’t take long for G.’s parents to catch on. When they confronted her about the relationship, he confirmed being romantically linked to the friend. The news didn’t go over well with them, both die-hard military brass living in a small town.

While deep-seeded emotions of anger, resentment and denial were simmering at home among her parents, the predicament at school reached all-out inferno status. Her secret got out and she was unwittingly shoved out of the proverbial closet for all to see. Many LGBT people describe “coming out” to family and friends as an arduous ordeal, but being the first openly lesbian student at her high school in the Deep South was especially agonizing, insists G.

“People would walk by my desk and purposely hit me in the head with books and none of the teachers did anything to stop it,” recalls G. “One time somebody carved the words dyke and faggot into my car door with keys. It was horrible. I was depressed and suicidal all throughout high school.”

G. contends that his experience was just one example of how transgender people are disproportionately victims of discrimination, violence and hate crimes. Young people are particularly vulnerable in schools nationwide, he says.

A 2009 national school climate survey of 7,261 LGBT middle and high school students youth conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a national LGBT advocacy group, supports that view. It found that:

  • 63 percent reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression (such as not acting “masculine enough” or “feminine enough”) frequently or often at school.
  • 61 percent felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation; 40 percent because of how they expressed their gender.
  • 85 percent reported being verbally harassed (e.g., called names or threatened) at school because of their sexual orientation; 64 percent felt it was due to their gender expression.\
  • 40 percent said they were physically harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation; compared to 27 percent because of their gender expression.

Georgia statistics are similar. Of the 175 LGBT student poll respondents, many reported having experienced physical harassment and physical assault:

  • 9 out of 10 reported being physically harassed because of the way they expressed their gender; about 2 in 3 reported being physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked or injured with a weapon) because of their sexual orientation.

Singh, the UGA researcher, agrees with G.

“There are considerably less resources available for transgender people in schools and that can make it an especially difficult experience for them,” Singh says. “Fortunately, along with the many challenges they also have a lot of resilience; that resilience keeps them bouncing back. We need to do more in schools to support them.”

It got to a point, G. says, that for safety reasons he arrived at school early and left late in hopes of thwarting further confrontations and harassment.

“I didn’t feel safe,” remembers G. “There was no GSA (gay student alliance) at my school and only one teacher offered any kind of support.”

For these reasons, G. is an ardent supporter of Georgia’s new anti-bullying law passed by the state Legislature in 2010. Starting in August, schools must begin notifying parents when their child is bullied or bullies another. The current policies in local school districts don’t require notification in every case.

Elliot, the field organizer for the non-profits, says the measure is a huge success for Georgia students, particularly those who are LGBT.

“This goes a long way to promote a safe environment in schools,” she says. “This legislation was inspired by the suicide of DeKalb County [Georgia] student Jaheem Herrera, who was relentlessly teased and called gay at his school. That case put a lot of pressure on the state Legislature to address this issue. The bullying policies had not been updated since the 1980s. Jaheem’s ordeal gave us the push that we needed to get it passed.”

The new law:

  • Defines bullying more broadly than before.
  • Requires local school systems to adopt policies on dealing with bullying.
  • Expands the policies to include elementary school students, particularly kindergarten.
  • Requires parents to be notified any time their child is bullied or bullies someone else.
  • Mandates students who bully in grades six through 12 be placed in an alternative school after the third offense.

G. says having such a law in place during his school days could have made a huge difference.

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Connor Gillis

Double Jeopardy: Lesbian Activist Says Fear of Parents’ Homophobia Inspires Secret Life

LGBT stock photo - Clay Duda,

["Double Jeopardy: Lesbian Activist Says Fear of Parents’ Homophobia Inspires Secret Life" is part 2 of a 3 part series on LGBT issues. Bookmark this page for updates.]

Second Life is a virtual reality game wherein members create a customized “avatar” that serves as a digital representation of themselves. In this three-dimensional virtual community, the avatar assumes an identity, takes up residence and moves about in a world completely created by them, for them. Second Lifers buy property, start businesses, make friends, join clubs, attend classes or sometimes just hang out.

Amber Holt* has never played this game, but in many respects, she feels like she lives it every day.

Holt, 20, a junior at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga. - about 26 miles outside of Atlanta - is vice president of the Kennesaw Pride Alliance (KPA), a campus-based Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) focused organization. She’s active in the campus president's Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning (GLBTIQ) Initiatives. She even helped organize the campus visit earlier this year of Meghan McCain, a gay rights activist who is the daughter of former Republican Presidential candidate John McCain. When she’s not busy planning AIDS Walk Atlanta, the Atlanta Pride Parade, The Summit (KSU’s annual LGBTIQ conference) and for KPA’s 20th anniversary celebration slated for the fall, she’s often spotted around campus hugged up with her new girlfriend of a few months.

“I’m very much out on campus,” says Holt, with a laugh.

Interestingly enough, Holt’s parents who live just over an hour away in a small rural Georgia town have no idea their daughter is living as a proud, openly lesbian woman. When Holt visits home base most weekends, they get to see her “avatar,” a tomboyish young woman, who abhors dresses and enjoys tinkering under the hood of her pick up truck.

“I was 17 when I finally realized that I can’t change who I am, but I was 18 when I finally embraced it,” explains Holt, an unassuming, but outspoken woman with cerulean eyes. “I finally realized who I am and nothing’s wrong with it. It’s such a burden covering my tracks all the time. I have to be very conscious of who’s around when I’m speaking.”

Kennesaw State University stock photo - Clay Duda,

KPA President Victor Ferreira has nothing but compliments for his newly elected vice-president.

“She’s a great person, a hard worker and an excellent organizer; she always has KPA on her mind,” he says. “If she were to run for president, KPA would be in great hands. She has so much to deal with at home, in a way I feel her work with KPA helps to make up for it in many ways.”

Living a double life, Holt says, is what’s best for now. In fact, Amber Holt isn’t actually her birth moniker. She’s asked us to conceal her real name because she has not yet “come out” to her parents. She fears that when she does, they’ll force her teenage brother to cut all ties with her. The mere thought of losing contact with her baby brother, whom she calls her “best friend,” is crushing.

“That’s really the only thing keeping me from telling them right now,” says Holt. “He’s the most important person in my life right now. I know when I tell them they’ll cut me off from him; they’ll think I’m being a bad influence.”

Tana Hall, a counselor at Atlanta-based non-profit, YouthPride, which provides support for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) youth, says Holt’s predicament is not uncommon.

“Many GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual transgender) folks hide their queer identity from their family,” says Hall, who is also a lesbian. “Older folks more so than young, I think. It’s about safety; the fear of getting kicked out or cut off.”

Holt says her personal struggles help her relate to the many recent reports nationwide of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) young adults and teens taking their own lives at alarmingly high rates. They are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to the Massachusetts 2006 Youth Risk Survey. "Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes" a 2009 study conducted as part of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, shows that adolescents who were rejected by their families for being LGBT were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide. And for every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made, a 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey concluded.

Holt, too, battled depression as a teen, once her parents first discovered her affinity for girls. “I definitely thought about it, but I always said to myself that I would never be that selfish,” says Holt. “I think suicide is the most selfish thing you can ever do. There’s always someone out there who loves you.”

Her parents spent several years and lots of money on efforts to get rid of what they consider to be a curable affliction. She hasn’t worked up the nerve so far to tell them that their efforts to help her “pray the gay away” have effectively failed.

Holt feels her parents just won’t understand, so the charade continues. It’s not surprising. After all they’re practically television’s Ward and June Cleaver, of “Leave It To Beaver” fame, personified. They met in high school when he was the football team captain and she led the cheerleading squad. They married after high school and had Holt and her brother shortly thereafter. Her dad’s also the lead minister at a small non-denominational church in their tiny close-knit town that at one time had only eight traffic lights. Neither of her parents believe that homosexuality is morally right. They cite Bible passages as proof.

“I love my parents but I believe they’re sorely misguided; I know they will never accept me being gay,” Holt says. “They genuinely believe in the Bible; and that I will go to hell because I’m gay. I know they honestly believe that they’re going to end up in heaven without their daughter one day. I think that’s how they genuinely see things; they’re stuck.”

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LGBT stock photo - Clay Duda,

*Amber Holt is a pseudonym. Her name has been witheld to protect her identity.
**Photographs are not of Amber Holt. Original stock photos were used to protect her identity.

Mississippi Joins 38 Other States, Raises Juvenile Age to Eighteen

The Mississippi state sealAn amended law that took effect July 1 made Mississippi the latest state to rethink how youth under the age of 18 are handled in criminal court. The new measure prevents most 17-year-old misdemeanor and nonviolent felony offenders from being tried as adults. Certain felonies including rape, murder and armed robbery may still warrant charges in the adult court system.

Two other states, Connecticut and Illinois, passed similar reforms earlier this year bringing the national total to 39 states that view juveniles as any individual below the age of 18, according to a report issued last week by the Campaign for Youth Justice.

“This is a good news report.” Liz Ryan, director of the Campaign for Youth Justice, -- a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on the issue -- told USA Today. “This really shows that there is a turning tide in the way states are treating kids in the juvenile justice system.”

Some juvenile advocates consider the amendment a positive change in the treatment of youthful offenders, but Mississippi law enforcement and juvenile officials worry it could adversely impact an already over-burdened Youth Court system.

“It’s going to create a tremendous pressure on our juvenile justice system with no increase in resource,” Harrison County Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso told the (Biloxi-Gulfport) Sun Herald. “So, it’s creating pressure on a system that’s already pressed.”

Legislators in Mississippi amended the law following state budget cuts that reduced bed space and maximum detention times, among other things, in juvenile facilities. But officials failed to allocate additional funds to the Youth Court system to deal with added expenses and growing number of offenders.

It costs states more to incarcerate offenders in juvenile than adult facilities due to health, counseling and other obligations, but juvenile inmates tend to have a lower recidivism rate than their counterparts in the adult system, according to the same Campaign for Youth Justice report.

Nationally, the United States has witnessed a five-year trend of states rethinking how juveniles are handled in the criminal justice system in large part due to research in adolescent brain development.

Crimes committed by minors aren’t always done with malice because they can’t fully distinguish right from wrong, Gina Vincent, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told JJIE at a brain development conference in early May.

Only 11 states, including Georgia, still try offenders younger than 18 in adult courts for nonviolent offenses. Roughly 250,000 offenders under the age of 18 are prosecuted in adult courts annually, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice report.

Keeping Teens Summer Safe, a Resource Guide from the CDC

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga.Extra time behind the wheel, long days at the lake and added exposure to the sun are just a few of the hazards kids and teens face as summer officially grabs hold. Unfortunately not everyone gets the summer months off. Parents are left to pick up the slack and still put in their 40 hours each week to pay the bills. So how do you keep your kids safe and the boss happy at the same time?

The Centers for Disease Control has made available a wealth of resources for parents asking themselves that very question. ‘Keep Kids Safe and Healthy during the Summer’ aims to be a one-stop shop for just about anybody looking for answers.

JJIE's pitch on Spot.Us, a journalism crowd funding platform.Of course youthful hazards don’t stop with the chiming of the school bells in August. The CDC also offers a breadth of additional resources for keeping kids, teens and families healthy the year round.

JJIE is also crowd-funding our own bit of child safety research through an experimental collaboration with Spot.Us. We’ll keep you posted.