A new type of discipline for troubled students is showing results at Ed White Middle School in San Antonio's North East ISD,1200 WOAI news reports.
Marilyn Armour of the University of Texas School of Social Work calls it 'Restorative Discipline' and he says it has resulted in a staggering 84% decrease in suspensions at White, which previously had some of the highest discipline rates in the entire district.
"What's happening here is really an effort to change the whole climate," she told 1200 WOAI's Michael Board. "Not just change the kids' behavior."
She says Restorative Discipline is a student based way of convincing kids to behave properly. When a child acts out, rather than an immediate trip to the principal's office, in school suspension, or other traditional tactic, the students, counselors, teachers 'talk out' the issues in what are called 'restorative circles.'
"When kids begin to get skills beyond the fighting, it gives them options they haven't had before," Armour said.
She says many examples of sixth and seventh graders engaging in disruptive behavior is frequently borne of frustration, the students want to be heard, and they want to be considered to have a role in their discipline and the activities they engage in. She says this process allows the student to talk out their problems, with an eye toward reducing bullying, truancy, and disruptive behavior.
After the restorative circle, students agree to a course of action, and they sign an agreement that they will abide by the conditions in the action plan.
Traditional school discipline is a 'top down' approach which frequently is only concerned about 'punishment' and does nothing to deal with the root causes of the students' problems. Using restorative discipline, the student him or herself has a stake in meeting the goals that he or she has helped set.
The term 'circling it' has become part of the language at Ed White Middle School. One student says rather than fighting, students tell other pupils they are having a disagreement with that they are going to 'circle it.'
Armour says students can, and frequently do, request restorative circles, and there is even a form they can fill out to do so. She says this puts the student in control of resolving the problem, rather than simply having the student sit quietly in front of the principal and hear punishment meted out.
The concept of Restorative Discipline is the creation of a UTSA lecturer named Robert Rico.