Students who overcame personal challenges
In the Fall of 2018, two seniors riding the bus were seen exchanging illegal drugs for money. Both students were growing up in very challenging environments and at risk for not completing high school. The first lived in a group home and had been placed on a probationary period from a prior legal infraction. The other lived in poverty and was desperately trying to make some money. No one in his family had ever graduated high school, and he had a hard time trusting the school’s staff.
We could have simply suspended or expelled both of these students. We could have reported the activity to the authorities and allowed the legal system to handle “the problem.” But that’s not what we do at Randolph Academy.
Instead, we follow the principles of Restorative Justice, an alternative to punishment-based discipline which has been shown consistently to be ineffective. Students who struggle socially and emotionally often don’t respond well to negative consequences. Usually, those only lead to negative attitudes about either themselves or their school. Restorative Justice, however, focuses on positive outcomes and rebuilding.
We sat both students down with the faculty and staff involved in the incident, and helped the students grasp the full scope of the situation they had created. They were asked to explain what happened, what they were thinking at the time, and what they had thought about since. They were guided to understand and express remorse to all of those who had been negatively affected by what they had done, and come up with ideas and recommendations for what they needed to do in order to make things right.
The incident ended with a written agreement, signed by both students, along with a commitment to how they would behave going forward, and how they wanted to live their lives.
And they stuck to it.
It takes a lot of courage to be able to admit you did something wrong, and talk to other people about how you should make it up to them
Three months later, both boys were positively engaged in school and progressing toward graduation. One was even elected President of our Student Leadership Organization. Nine months later, both earned high school diplomas – and one was chosen by his peers to give the student address at their Commencement.
“It takes a lot of courage to be able to admit you did something wrong, and talk to other people about how you should make it up to them,” one of the students shared upon reflection.
This is just one example of how Restorative Justice can have a profound impact on students, especially those dealing with trying circumstances outside of school. They often live in conditions that make them highly susceptible to falling into the school-to-prison pipeline. What we’ve found is, if educators are willing to learn about and recognize their circumstances, provide a more effective learning environment, and really take the time to understand the causalities of their behavior, we have the ability to keep our students from making poor decisions — and literally change their lives for the better.