Youth Gain Approval of Restorative Discipline in Fresno Schools. – Youth Leadership Institute
Yesterday the Fresno Unified School District Board of Trustees voted to accept a set of recommendations on how the District can improve student achievement and graduation rates. Dozens of students and community allies appeared at the meeting in support of one recommendation in particular – that the District implement a restorative discipline system, aimed at holding students accountable, while keeping them in the classroom and on the path to graduation. This recommendation came at the urging of Students United to Create a Climate of Engagement, Support and Safety (SUCCESS), a student advocacy group that has worked for several years to improve academic achievement for students in Fresno schools.
“This is an important first step towards a much needed total cultural shift in our district. The voices of youth were heard loud and clear,” said MaryJane Skjellerup, Senior Director of Programs, Central Valley, for the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI). YLI youth have been active partners in SUCCESS from its inception, leading research into Fresno’s drop out rates and pinpointing barriers to academic achievement. For these youth, the District’s decision to accept these recommendations is a great step toward positive change. “After being involved with community organizations for four years, listening to youth voice and taking action on student recommendations makes sense. The students are the ones currently in school, so they know what is working and isn’t working,” said Miriam Hernandez, a senior at Roosevelt High School, youth representative on Fresno Unified’s Graduation Task Force, and a SUCCESS youth leader.
California’s fourth largest school district, Fresno Unified has struggled in recent years with graduation rates well below the state average. In 2010, Fresno Unified reported its graduation rate at 66%. Academic achievement was not even along racial lines, with 78% of Asian students graduating in 2010, followed by whites at 73%, Hispanics at 62%, and blacks at 57%. Educators and community activists say actual graduation rates may be even lower than Fresno Unified’s numbers report.
Fresno Unified’s current student disciplinary methods have been seen as contributing to the problem by pulling students out of the classroom and away from their studies. In 2011, Fresno Unified’s 73,000 students missed a total of 32,000 days of school due to suspensions. SUCCESS found such absences can cause students to fall behind, increasing their chance of failing classes, losing credits, and dropping out. SUCCESS and Fresno Unified’s Graduation Task Force recommend a restorative discipline model as a way to change this. Per the recommendations, “the District’s behavior response system must restore healthy interactions, help participants learn from their mistakes, and connect students and adults with the supports they need to keep all students in school on target to graduate.” To accomplish this, the Graduation Task Force advises the District to:
“Repurpose and restructure current behavior systems such as out-of-school suspensions and transition programs to ensure that students stay in school on target to graduate”
“Develop new opportunities for adults working with students to listen to students’ sides of the story during any discipline intervention,” and
“Monitor student behavior throughout the Fresno Unified School District and implement effective responses to reduce misbehaviors”
Following Wednesday’s vote to accept the Graduation Task Force’s recommendations, the Fresno Unified Board of Trustees passed a budget for the next year that includes funds to support implementing these recommendations as early as next fall.