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June 29, 2014
Santa Cruz Sentinel
by Karen Kefauver

Bonnie Dankert

Veteran educator teaches at Juvenile Hall

Bonnie Dankert is not afraid of deeply troubled teenagers. Instead, the veteran educator is grateful for the rewards and challenges presented by her students at Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall. She has dedicated the past four years of her 34-year teaching career to working with kids enrolled in the Robert A. Hartman School, an accredited alternative high school run within the hall by the county Office of Education.

“The kids call it Hartman High,” said Dankert, a Santa Cruz resident who typically teaches kids ages 12 to 18. The school runs five days a week, six hours a day.

“I think outside-the-box on how to provide education to kids with gaps in their schooling or who are truant,” she said.

Typically students are at school for two to three weeks, though occasionally Dankert has been in charge of designing an entire four-year high school education.

“One of my key goals is supporting kids to get a high school diploma. I also want to bridge community resources to the classroom.”

For example, Dankert recently collaborated with The Young Writers Program, run by Julia Chiapella.

“We published a book of Hartman student poetry and art called Voices from the Inside. Bookshop Santa Cruz hosted an event where the work was shared. It was empowering for their voices to be heard.”

Asked how she manages working with angry, even violent kids, she replied, “You have to know who you are working with and keep good boundaries. The kids who are very angry have deep-seated anger and not just for being arrested. The anger is a pattern in their lives. … Most kids have been traumatized in one way or another. Every time I think I have heard worst case scenario, something else tops it.”

Dankert praises her fellow teachers and the probation staff for their skill and support. “If I can’t forge the right way in, someone else may be able to. If I am having difficulty, I don’t have to shoulder it all myself.”

She adds: “I really enjoy supporting kids who need an adult who is going to invest and believe in them until they can believe in themselves. That’s a process, and it takes time.”

Dankert acknowledges, “There’s a lot of fear connected to these kids. It’s justifiable. I can understand it. If I had taken this job in my earlier years of teaching, it probably would have been more difficult.”

Dankert has mixed emotions about retiring this August. She looks forward to more family time. Yet she won’t let go of her passion for helping disenfranchised youth.

“We can’t give up on our kids. These are kids in our community. These aren’t someone else’s kids. These are our kids. I applaud everyone that is working on behalf of these kids. I am so thankful for such a wonderful career. I just can’t tell you how lucky I feel.”

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