(JORDAN DEL VALLE TONOIAN / EYE OF THE TIGER)
In part one of a two part investigative report, Eye of the Tiger previews how the new model will enforce positive strategies to address behavioral concerns. Part two explores the effect the new practice will have on RJUHSD students, staff and suspension rates. Click here to read part two.
When superintendent Denise Herrmann began her tenure with RJUHSD, she adopted an initiative set by former superintendent Ron Severson’s administration to reform district policy on student suspensions. RJUHSD currently follows a punitive suspension model which utilizes punishments such as suspension to penalize poor behavior. A revised restorative practices model would feature an emphasis in aiding students to make amends with people affected by their behavior and addressing the root causes of poor decision making.
According to Herrmann, the California Department of Education placed RJUHSD on “Differentiated Assistance” for high suspension rates in regards to Hispanic students or those involved with the Individualized Education Program.
Since RJUHSD holds a higher rate of suspension than predicted based off of its student population it suggested that the district look into altering its practices to reduce suspensions.
This led the district to begin exploring the restorative model last year.
“If students aren’t in class they can’t learn,” Herrmann said. “When we are able to find more restorative ways to have behavior change for the good, it will help students stay in class, it will help us have positive school climate and it will actually help those students learn behaviors for the next time you’re in a challenging situation.”
As part of the multi-year transition to a restorative model, the district began holding training sessions with district members, administrators and teachers over the summer. The first step in the restorative model comes in the form of preventative measures, such as holding class-connecting activities to help build trust between students and teachers. This aims not only to decrease instances of misbehavior, but also to create an environment that is more conducive to behavior reform, so students will feel more capable of returning to class and rebuilding relationships after an incident.
In the training sessions with teachers, teachers simulated such activities – except as participants, rather than as moderators, as they would be in the classroom. How often teachers implement these sessions in their classes will depend on the individual teacher.
Social science teacher Jessica Fork believes reinforcing restorative strategies in the classroom creates an environment where students may be more inclined to engage in the course curriculum. According to Fork, she has used restorative practices to establish a sense of community within her classes.
“How do you get classes to click? You treat them like humans,” Fork said. “If you don’t respect them then you have behavioral issues.”
When an incident does occur, the consequences in a restorative model are geared towards helping students make amends – not only to help those around them, but so they can more easily re-enter the class. This can include mediative meetings between two students after a fight on campus – something administrators worked on in their training – or working to help students address the problem during on-campus suspensions.
The aforementioned restorative practices would involve the Wellness Center, which was also implemented this year, in identifying the impact of a conflict between students and how they may process the situation.
Fork believes employing restorative justice concepts on campus will set positive examples for students approaching conflicts.
“I am hoping that it’ll teach kids how to mediate conflicts in a healthier manner, not a belligerent attacking manner,” Fork said. “Maybe it’ll help them learn how they can handle things better in life.”
According to wellness and prevention coordinator Christina Dobon-Claveau, restorative practices are geared towards establishing healthy communication habits and working past disputes without suspending students for extended periods of time.
“It’s a way to talk through the problem instead of suspending through the problem,” Dobon-Claveau said. “We know that suspensions don’t work. It just alienates kids from schools [and] it puts them further behind.”
Dobon-Claveau believes that it is important to take factors outside of school into consideration when approaching students prone to behavioral issues. According to Dobon-Claveau, this would require collaboration between faculty members in addressing student demands.
“We would rather have students here not only learning but if they have struggles…they can access services here at school,” Dobon-Claveau said. “We’re just going to be working side by side with administration, counselors and teachers to support these students that have additional needs.”
Herrmann believes this is essential to building students into stronger people and leaving them comfortable in their learning environment.
“All students want to feel like they belong, and when you make a mistake, and you have that feeling that you might not be welcomed in that class… that can be a very difficult feeling for students,” Herrmann said. “The most important thing for students is to help them learn that you can learn from failure. You can learn from mistakes.”