NEW ROCHELLE, NY --The City School District of New Rochelle is offering the powerful lesson of reconciliation by advocating restorative practices as a means of handling student discipline challenges.
The thinking behind this is that if students are offered a chance to correct a bad situation they created, it will become a teachable moment that helps them become responsible adults.
At Albert Leonard Middle School (ALMS), the faculty has begun offering social contracts to help students navigate conflicts and solve problems.
"We are working to advocate for a problem-solving approach to managing discipline that promotes respect for one's self and others," said ALMS Principal John Barnes. "We want to help students understand each other, work well together and develop responsibility for their own actions. We want to do this in a dignified way, while reinforcing the notion that this behavior is a hallmark of maturity that people will judge them by."
The website "Intervention Central" explains the contract as a tool to modify behavior by defining the expectations of the people involved, each of whom has input into, and agree to, the contract's terms. The belief is that students are motivated to follow the social contract's terms, rather than conditions imposed by a school authority.
As an example of success, Barnes recalled an incident in which two girls were involved in a serious altercation.
"Upon speaking to them individually, they both felt misunderstood and disrespected by one another," said Barnes. "We facilitated a mediation and asked the two young ladies to consider four questions as part of a way to try to make things right."
What are three things you have in common?
What are three things you didn't know about one another?
What are three other ways you could have handled the situation?
What are three communications statements to use if people ask about the situation or try to continue the conflict?
"They discovered they both grew up starting to speak a language other than English" said Barnes. "They both fought with their siblings, and they like the same music."
As they learned more about each other, the students began discussing what caused the fight in the first place, what they could have done differently, and what statements they could use if anyone asked about the incident.
"Our hope was that either these girls could become friends, or, at the very least, they would understand the importance of being respectful and civil to each other," he added.
The outcome exceeded Barnes' expectations.
"What would have been, in the past, an in-house suspension for two students changed into a caring relationship," said Barnes. "That's a feel good and teachable moment for everyone."