Sunday, February 17, 2008

Media: Class helps expelled teens make better 'Choices'

By Carol Bogart | Daily Republic

SUISUN CITY - Seventeen-year-old D'Angelo Johnson has learned the importance of choosing his friends.

Johnson failed three classes at Armijo High School as a sophomore. To have enough credits for graduation, he took extra classes at Sem Yeto Continuation High School. At Sem Yeto, he said he got caught 'holding a bag of marijuana for a friend' and was expelled.

Today, the Suisun City teen is refocused on success after completing the four-week 'Choices' program for expelled high school students at the North Bay YMCA. The life skills class meets once a week and is led by Youth Program Director Deon Price. To date, about 240 expelled students have completed the class.

D'Angelo Johnson said his father, Derrick Johnson, urged him to take the Choices class. Derrick Johnson had been working 12-hour days to support his family, Price said, after his wife died when D'Angelo was 13.

Losing his mother at such a young age, in combination with his father working '7 to 7,' Price said, set the stage for D'Angelo Johnson's downward spiral.

Most of the expelled students in Price's class don't volunteer to be there. They have been referred by area high schools as a condition for reinstatement.

The YMCA started the Choices program two years ago after noticing there seemed to be a spike in expelled students, Price said. The time between the expulsion and when students were being placed in an alternative school could be two months or more, he added.

Students were falling so far behind academically, with no hope of graduating on time, that they become discouraged, Price said. The Choices class is designed to help get students straightened out and prepare them for achievement.

D'Angelo Johnson is a good example.

After being expelled, he said it was two months before he was placed in an alternative school, the Golden Hills Education Center. In Price's class, he listened to anecdotes that he said made him rethink the choices that had caused him so much trouble.

For instance, he remembered Price's story about a 16-year-old who fired a friend's gun into the crowd at a high school basketball game 'just to scare them.'

That 16-year-old is now serving a 19-year prison sentence because the bullet narrowly missed the principal, Price told his new class of five on Wednesday.

Clarence Jordan, 14, listened intently as Price finished the story by saying the 16-year-old told authorities, 'It wasn't my gun. I just wanted to do something.'

'One bad decision cost him 19 years of his life,' Price said.

Clarence shook his head and replied, 'He ain't never gonna get those years back, either.'

Talking back to the principal at Armijo High and other infractions landed Clarence in the Choices program. After hearing Price's story, he said he planned to apologize to school officials.

The story also made an impression on D'Angelo Johnson when he heard it in the class. He said he no longer associates with the 'friend' who asked him to hold his marijuana.

Price, who lives with his wife and four children in Suisun City, has unique skills for holding the attention of his captive audience. He's a former standup comedian and worked in juvenile probation for a decade.

Derrick Johnson, whom Price described as a 'great father,' has cut back his hours and taken a cut in pay to spend more time with D'Angelo and his younger son.

D'Angelo Johnson said in just his first two months at Golden Hills, he earned 50 credits toward reinstatement at Armijo High. Now a junior, he said his grades are good and he plans to go to college.

Reach Carol Bogart at 427-6955 or at

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