College and Career Advantage Releases New Criminal Psychology Course

Criminal+psychology+teacher%2C+Colleen+Maga%C3%B1a%2C+has+been+teaching+the+course+since+it+first+became+available+at+the+school+starting+the+2020-21+school+year.+

Gabby Laurente

Criminal psychology teacher, Colleen Magaña, has been teaching the course since it first became available at the school starting the 2020-21 school year.

The College and Career Advantage (CCA) team has begun offering a new Criminal Psychology course in the Law Enforcement pathway. The course was first introduced to campus beginning the 2020-21 school year, and it is one of only two Criminal Psychology high school courses offered across the country. 

“I have been trying to get this class for four years,” said the Criminal Psychology and Forensic Science course instructor, Colleen Magaña. 

The course curriculum serves as an introduction to the criminal justice process. First semester, students can expect to study the psychological and sociological causes of crime– theories about why crime occurs. Second semester, students can expect to study actual crimes themselves, including homicide, serial offenders, familicide, radical groups and cults, sexual assault, child abuse, and more.

Prior to teaching, Magaña worked within the several branches of law enforcement, mainly as a social worker. In New York City, she worked to help children getting out of foster care and to help parents overcome whatever was preventing them from getting their child back out of foster care. 

“I also worked for a program called The Treatment Alternative to Street Crime. Instead of sending low level felony offenders to prison, we would bring them into some sort of a rehabilitation setting, and then we would release them with a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony that they would have had follow them around for the rest of their lives,” said Magaña. 

I like that my students get as fired up as I do; and then I feel like I’m helping you guys prepare, and that you’re going to make your communities better, you’re going to advocate for your friends, you’re going to advocate for your family members. To me, I’m sending out amazing kids who are gonna do amazing things in the world,”

— Colleen Magaña

Within the program, Magaña also worked in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens Supreme Court. “I would go down into the holding cells and do initial interviews while they were awaiting their arraignment. We would talk to them again six months later and see how they were doing in treatment and things like that, and then again a year later.”

Magaña also conducted research for the FBI in a program offered to graduate students at John Jay.

In general, being in social work opens a lot of different doors and potential career paths. “Honestly, there’s a lot of overlap. Someone with a drug problem often has children that have been taken away or they’re trying not to lose them, or homeslessness comes with crime. The topics overlap,” said Magaña. 

Education was Magaña’s first choice after social work. “I always told everyone that I was going to do what I did until I got shot or pregnant. I got pregnant,” she said. She has since been teaching for the past five years. 

According to Magaña, administration has been very supportive of the course. “They support me, they’ve always supported me when it comes to these topics. I have to get permission on certain topics to cover. It’s just tough because it’s a CCA class, and so it can fluctuate based on student interest, and that’s nothing administration can do. I do a lot of work with the counselors too, I give them a lot of notice so that they’re aware as well.”

Students, seniors especially, and parents have been very supportive of the class. However, Magaña has also been approached by some concerned parents. “I get concerned parent emails, but it’s ‘my child has had [this], is this going to be okay for them?,’” said Magaña. “We talk about it because it has to be completely open book, and I tell the students that I’m not keeping their secrets either.” 

Magaña stresses that if she finds any information that is jeopardizing or will possibly jeopardize the student themself or those around them, secrets will not be kept quiet. This would include plans to hurt themselves, plans to hurt someone close to them, or revealing that someone around them is hurting them. 

Many students take the course planning on becoming part of the FBI. The majority of students enter the course interested in the psychology aspect, so students tend to go on to major in psychology following graduation. A handful of students go into criminal justice or law. “Every once in a while I steer someone towards social work for victim services,” said Magaña. 

An inclination to educate the next generation of public service workers is what drove Magaña to start teaching the course. 

“I like that my students get as fired up as I do; and then I feel like I’m helping you guys prepare, and that you’re going to make your communities better, you’re going to advocate for your friends, you’re going to advocate for your family members. To me, I’m sending out amazing kids who are gonna do amazing things in the world, and I actually feel that way. Look, I’m getting teared up!”