During a time when most schools are adopting the ‘no tolerance’ policy towards discipline, Sippican School is exploring a new approach that fosters a more positive, conciliatory outcome to conflict that helps students learn from their mistakes and feel included in the process of resolving conflict.
Sippican School Assistant Principal Sarah Goerges introduced the concept of “restorative justice” to the Marion School Committee on May 23, hoping to garner support for initiating training for teachers to introduce the practice of promoting positive discipline beginning with sixth grade.
“Sixth grade is a little bit of a different animal than K through 5,” said Goerges, implying that the ‘restorative’ approach to discipline might be more appropriate for that particular level of maturity.
Goerges said two sixth-grade teachers were introduced to restorative justice at a conference, describing the disciplinary approach as a crossover from the ‘Responsive Classroom’ philosophy being established at the school.
Responsive Classroom emphasizes the importance of social/emotional learning as it relates to academic success, and teachers are trained to approach teaching in ways that foster a safe and supportive classroom.
Restorative justice, Goerges said, is a tool that teachers could implement relatively quickly as it requires fewer training hours than certification in responsive classroom.
“It was a lot about building relationships and trust in the classroom so that you could talk and solve issues that arise, and how to reincorporate a classmate that kind of had offended or done something,” said Goerges. “And by building that community, that safe place … in a safe way to work through issues, it was something that they felt they could use.”
Students are already accustomed to that sense of community building, Goerges said, as students meet every morning as a school for “town meeting.”
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Elise Frangos said the Suffolk University Center for Restorative Justice recommends the approach for sixth grade and up.
“If teachers and administrators were trained in it, they would not have this kind of … crime and punishment [discipline],” said Frangos. “We believe it’s always best to sit in a … peaceable circle and work it out and children are not asked to go home unless it was really something quite disastrous.”
With the restorative justice approach, most conflicts are addressed in an “empathic circle” consisting of the student(s) involved, teachers, parents, and administrators to resolve conflict rather than default to suspensions and expulsions, although some serious or violent offences might still result in some form of exclusion from the school.
However, generally, Frangos said, “What you do is you don’t have detentions or suspensions. The solution is worked out, but it’s a great way as an adjunct to responsive classroom.”
“One of the early identified initiatives of the strategic planning poll team around social/emotional,” said Director of Student Services Michael Nelson,” has been to look at our discipline objectives pre-K through 12 to discuss in a similar fashion what we’re doing differently and really explore programs like this one … to see if it makes sense as a universal approach.”
“It will be very, very exciting for us to … explore this,” Frangos added. “So then, everyone truly feels that school is a home and nobody gets that ‘bouncing out.’”
In other matters, Principal Lyn Rivet said two impassioned students concerned about the environment have initiated a cooperative effort with the principal and the food service director to explore different ways the school could recycle more, especially in the cafeteria.
The school has already implemented the Crayola “ColorCycle” program that collects used markers for recycling and is now looking for ways to further cut back on waste, such as with biodegradable straws and alternatives to plastic eating utensils.
“[Food Service Director Jill Hennessey] has researched prices to see if it fits into the budget as she goes out to different products,” Rivet said.
Parents are also assisting in establishing a composting initiative at the school, said Rivet.
The next meeting of the Marion School Committee is scheduled for June 13at 6:30 pm at the Sippican School.
Marion School Committee
By Jean Perry