Middletown Invests In Restorative Practices To Make Their Schools Welcoming
School is supposed to be a place where children learn and grow, but the hard truth is that not every child thrives in a school environment. It’s bound to happen that some children will end up in fights or chronically truant from school. For decades, correcting this behavior meant some kind of punishment, whether a rasp on the knuckles from a ruler up to suspension and expulsion. But times change and corporeal punishment is now illegal and some schools are reconsidering punishment altogether. Middletown is now looking into Restorative Practices, where promoting healthy relationships before an incident is more important than what you do afterwards.
The phrase restorative practices signifies its goals and aims. The Schott Foundation, which works with school departments and officials around the country in places like Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington D.C., describes it as the “processes that proactively build healthy relationships and a sense of community to prevent and address conflict and wrongdoing.”
For Middletown, the role of instituting restorative practices is handed over to the Youth Services Bureau (YSB). Their role is to divert troubled youth from the justice system, which they aim to do by “mobilizing community resources to solve youth problems, promoting positive programs to remedy delinquency breeding conditions, and strengthening existing youth resources and developing new ones.”
Cassandra Day looked at the implementation of restorative practices for the Middletown Press, where she is Managing Editor. In part one, she describes the positive results that Justin Carbonella, YSB’s head, got by replacing standard office furniture with a circular table. One of the main focuses of restorative practices is to improve relationships between students and educators, and by eliminating one barrier — a desk — the hope is that it eliminates behavioral barriers.
Students feel safer back to top
In creating this positive relationship, practitioners believe that students will feel safer coming to class. As the Schott Foundation says in their guidebook to restorative practices, “students who are not in class are, of course, not doing much learning.” And alienating a student by punishing them for something like absenteeism today isn’t going to compel them to come in tomorrow.
This is in stark contrast to zero-tolerance schools, which proponent say don’t incentivize a learning environment. A recent study by the Connecticut Voices for Children showed that when teachers had access to a School Resource Officer (SRO), they were statistically more likely to be referred for arrest. This took on a racial disparity as well, showing that Latino and black children were 4.16 and 3.67 times more likely to be arrested with a SRO.
Starting children out with a criminal record is likely to be detrimental to their growth and education. Restorative practices aims to de-escalate these situations and find conflict-free solutions. Disciplinary disparities decrease when all students are given a chance to succeed, even in the face of aberrant behavior.
In Middletown, they seek to get behind the misbehavior to the latent causes of that behavior in the first place. Carbonella, quoted in the Press article, said that trauma, often found at home, can be a factor that inhibits their ability to resolve conflicts and remain calm. In order to break the cycle, all factors of a student’s life must be taken into consideration.
The Schott Foundation sums it up saying: “When the culture and climate of the school is improved, students become more engaged, which results in improved attendance, fewer classroom disruptions, higher academic performance, and increased graduation rates.”