The old days of tossing kids in detention with nothing to do is going the way of the buggy whip.
Foothill is shaking up its discipline system with a new philosophy called restorative justice.
“We’re moving from a punitive program to one where we can support the students in making better decisions,” Vice Principal Rich Gorton explained.
Foothill was awarded a two-year $16,000 grant from Alameda County to staff counselors, train teachers and buy supplies for the new restorative justice system.
The first step, Gorton noted, is to spread the word on campus that detention has a whole new style. Saturday school will be replaced with after-school detentions and renamed the Foothill After-School Character Trait Support, or FACTS, program.
“We’re changing Saturday school from four hours on Saturday to two hours after school twice a week,” he said. “Saturday school was kind of like being in jail. Students went in for four hours and just sat there.”
The new after-school detention with restorative justice puts kids to work writing a reflective essay. Students are given three writing prompts that make them admit to what they did, explain why they did it and reflect on what they would do differently in the future.
“The idea behind restorative justice is that you face up to what you did,” Gorton said. “It’s not just some sort of arbitrary punishment or consequence. It’s really owning up to whatever choice it is that you made. We want the kids to understand what they did and how they can make a better choice the next time.”
The FACTS program is for students who commit particular offenses detailed in the student handbook. Students who talk back to teachers and first-time cheaters are examples of students who might end up in detention. Students who forge documents, such as signing a parent’s name, and second-time cell phone offenders are also subject to detention.
Gorton admitted the concept of restorative justice is somewhat abstract and realizes that some parents might not fully understand the philosophy.
“What’s harder? To be suspended at home for three days or to have to answer for yourself to the person you’ve harmed?” he said. “What we’re trying to do is increase the level of accountability. Part of the accountability is seeing things from the other person’s perspective. You begin to understand that you caused harm. The next step is thinking of ways that you can repair that harm.”
Gorton plans to recruit teachers who are enthusiastic about learning how restorative justice works and eager to take part in the 50 hours of teacher training included in the grant. Those teachers, in turn, could train other teachers as the program expands.
Another level of the restorative justice program is what Gorton calls harm circles. The students involved and even their parents are brought together to discuss an incident, understand why it happened and figure out how a similar situation might be avoided in the future.
“It’s not going to be appropriate in all circumstances,” he said. “You have to make sure that all parties are willing. You want to ensure success by giving students the choice do traditional discipline or voluntarily take part in the harm circle.”
A recent use of the harm circle ended with all parties better understanding the motives of the other people involved, extending apologies and agreeing to work together in the future to avoid similar conflicts.
“You’re trying to come to an understanding of how something happened,” Gorton explained. “By people communicating and understanding one another, a lot of times that feeling that someone did something wrong will go away and people begin for forgive. They see why someone may have done something they did.”
“That’s a better outcome than when you have people remaining angry with someone,” he added. With old-school discipline, “you have people who continue to feel victimized or the perpetrators may feel victimized by the system because nobody’s listening to their side of the story. You’re able to let people move on and get a fresh start on things.”
By Zoe Francis
Posted Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012