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Discipline in the SBCSC

Discipline in the SBCSC

Postby Happy Mom » Sun Jan 06, 2019 9:12 am

South Bend middle school works to redefine discipline by introducing restorative justice
By Victoria St. Martin South Bend Tribune Dec 24, 2018

SOUTH BEND — Tyrees Chambers said his teacher talks too much. But, in a revelation that most, especially a 14-year-old, would never admit: He talks too much, too.

“We both talk too much,” said the eighth-grader as he finished recycling with a school coordinator during a recent afternoon.

For years, South Bend schools has disproportionately disciplined African American students. In the 2016-2017 school year, black students accounted for as many as a two-thirds of suspensions, even though they make up only a third of the district’s student body.

But now, one South Bend middle school is trying a different approach: Instead of sending students away, they want to bring them in even closer.

At Jefferson Traditional School, educators use restorative justice, a practice in which people work to repair and restore relationships.

“Instead of asking (students) ‘Why you did you do that?’ when you see them take off full speed running down the hall, you can ask them, ‘Hey, what happened, what’s going on?’” said Kathe Streeter, the school’s restorative justice coordinator. “Sometimes you find out a story about their lives: ‘My mom got sick on the way to school.’ Whatever it is, you find out the back story and it increases your relationship.”

Sometimes in place of suspension, Jefferson teachers, administrators and parents sit in a circle to ask a series of questions in an attempt to get to the root of the problem. There are a series of self-reflective inquiries like: What happened? What were you thinking about at the time? What have you thought about since?

“You can shift from retributive justice where your emphasis is punishment to where you are placing more emphasis on the person who was harmed and how can we restore and repair that harm,” Streeter said.

The school also has students sit in a discussion circles to go over lesson plans and share their weekend pursuits, in an effort that administrators hope will build community. During a recent discussion, students sat in chairs arranged in a circle and passed around a totem in order to have the floor, while they talked about their favorite Thanksgiving dish and shared their best personal qualities.

Tyrees, who is African American, said he likes sharing his feelings with others.

“It feels good,” he said. “You get to expose yourself.”

Moving the needle on suspensions
Nationally, more African American students are suspended and excluded from school than any other race, said Jefferson Principal Carmen Williams. Williams said she believes restorative justice will help address the disproportionality — if not across the nation, then here in her own backyard.

But it’s about more than reducing suspensions, she said.

“For me it was more than that: a need to prevent issues from happening in the first place,” Williams said. “Let’s make sure we have the foundation and relationships so it doesn’t get to that point.

“We have a huge cultural mismatch in South Bend,” she added, “where we have a high urban, high poverty, high minority population being serviced by majority white, majority middle class teachers, and we need all students. How do we get them to build relationships across the cultural barrier so that learning occurs?”

While it’s too soon to make any definitive assessments of the program, Jefferson officials say they are encouraged by the way the suspension numbers are trending. Just as important, they say, is the way the restorative justice conversation is helping to re-frame a broader discussion at Jefferson about discipline in schools.

Restorative justice was introduced to Jefferson in August of 2017. From 2014 to 2018, out-of-school suspensions for all students at the middle school decreased by 25 percent, according to data provided by the South Bend Community School Corporation. In-school suspensions for all students increased by 11 percent during that same time.

School officials point out that overall enrollment during the time period also increased by about 10 percent — from 566 to 622.

For African American male students, there was a 17 percent decrease in out-of-school suspensions, but a 26 percent increase of in-school suspensions. During that time, enrollment for African American males grew by 6 percent.

Williams said that since 2014 there’s been a new assistant principal at the school and Jefferson officials went from not knowing what restorative justice is, to working on the task of training all teachers and staff in practice. She said the figures “reflect a strong beginning” and she hopes to see more growth. It’s one of the reasons why she made sure this school year, every homeroom has a discussion circle (or what educators there call “community-building circles”) once a week.

“I’m adopting restorative justice to just keep kids in school,” she said. “I’m adopting restorative justice because I want kids to love school and love learning. I want them to feel a part of this community, and to own it.” Williams believes students will in turn want to be in the building, they will be conscious of their behavior and “they will do things that will keep them in school intuitively and intrinsically.”

Brianne Adams, a seventh-grade teacher at Jefferson and an early adopter of the practice, said a lot of students tell her that through discussion circles they get to know each other better.

“They also get to know the teacher as a person,” said Adams. “I feel like when I’m in circle I get to let that authority guard come down, and I get to be more of an actual person than a person in charge. And they know I’m listening to them.

During a recent circle, Adams asked her students if their life was made into a movie, who would play them (“Julia Roberts cause she has the biggest smile,” she said).

Pinning hopes on the future
Restorative justice has roots that stretch back to indigenous tribes throughout the world. The tribes gather in a circle, whether it be for celebrations, a birth, a death or tribal meetings, said Deborah Reichmann, a research associate and trainer at Indiana University in Bloomington, who works in restorative practices.

“There’s a tribe in Africa, for example, that when a person harms someone or causes an issue in the community, instead of pushing them out, they bring them into the fold, and into the circle,” Reichmann said. “Singing that person’s birth song and reminding them of who they are and what they have to offer.”

Restorative practices were used in the ’70s in the criminal justice system in Canada and in Elkhart, just miles away from the middle school. It was later introduced to educators, and it’s used in schools around the country. Williams hopes it spreads from her halls to across the school system and finds a way into every classroom.

“Implementing restorative practices districtwide takes a commitment,” said Ruth Warren, who was recently elected to the school board and was a former principal in the district. “It depends on principal leadership and it depends on the staff buy in and their knowledge about the program.”

And, Warren said, it depends on building human relationships, which she added “can sometimes be very difficult.”

“If we knew how to build human relationships, we would have world peace,” Warren said.

But in the little room with teal curtains at the end of the hall at Jefferson Traditional Middle School, Streeter said she’s trying to do just that: carve out a little slice of happiness for all.

The room buzzed with conversations on a recent morning as Allison Walker and her classmates sat in a circle. She and two other seventh-graders talked about their favorite qualities, and Allison leaned towards them and tried to hide a giggle, as she scribbled a list of words in red marker on an index card.

Helpful, loving, caring, kind. Grateful.

“You learn more things about your friends,” said the 12-year-old at the end of the exercise. “So when you talk to them, you can say stuff about you that is kind of also the same. You get to know them better.”

Her mom, Amy Rose-Walker, said she didn’t know discussion circles were held at Jefferson, but said speaking up is something she’s constantly encouraging her daughter to do.

“It helps in almost any scenario to be face-to-face and communicating over anything rather than a text or email or calling or Facebook or something like that,” Rose-Walker said.

Tyrees agrees.

“We get to say whatever we want to say and get it off our chest,” he said. “We get to speak, when we go around the circle, I’m thinking about how I’m going to answer the question. Whenever the stick comes to you, you can talk.

“Sometimes I feel shy because there’s a lot of people and they’re staring at me. (But) I don’t want to let the stick go.” ... 0e392.html
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Re: Discipline in the SBCSC

Postby raycyrx » Sat Jan 12, 2019 9:38 pm

It certainly sounds interesting. I hope it works out.

But I have a related question...
What is the rate of suspensions for males compared to females? I'm guessing males get suspensions at several times the rate of females. Given that assumed disporportion, shouldn't this program have tried a long time ago?
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Re: Discipline in the SBCSC

Postby Happy Mom » Sat Jan 12, 2019 10:37 pm

I'm not sure but I think it is more male than female but female are becoming more aggressive (i.e. Clay HS fight last year on video) and YES, it should have been tried long before now.
Also now that Oletha Jones, somehow, miraculously found enough votes to get on the School Board, we have no hope of finding a solution to the discipline problem. She uses the race card anytime a black child is corrected for their behavior.
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