While the City Council considers a proposal to fine families of children who get into fights at school, parents in Austin are improving classroom behavior and performance with an educational discipline program based on “restorative justice,” and students are discussing initiatives to reduce tensions at Clemente High School.
Earlier this year members of the citywide parent group POWER-PAC established the Austin Peace Center at Brunson Elementary School, with support from the State’s Attorney’s Project Reclaim.
POWER-PAC has called for education-oriented discipline programs as an alternative to excessive use of suspensions, which they say don’t improve behavior or address underlying issues.
At Brunson students facing suspension or detention were referred to the peace center, and one group of boys and one of girls each met for twice-weekly after-school sessions for several months. They learned conflict resolution strategies and got homework help and one-on-one time with adult mentors. A conflict resolution approach called “peace circles” was used to handle classroom infractions, bringing together everyone involved in a supportive conversation which holds offenders accountable.
Volunteer parents and community residents serve as Peacemakers, staffing the peace center during school days. “Kids can ask to talk to a Peacemaker if they’re getting upset,” said Lynn Morton of POWER-PAC. “They can sit and talk and calm down, and then go and have a great day.”
Discipline problems have gone down and grades have gone up for participating students, Morton said.
Several Austin school are interested in joining the program, she said, and next year they will expand to Howe Elementary, 720 N. Lorel.
Students participating in the Austin Peace Center will be recognized in an awards ceremony on Thursday, June 8, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at Brunson, 932 N. Central.
Backed by Community Organizing and Family Issues, POWER-PAC is also pressing to reinstate recess in CPS elementary schools, in order to improve behavior and learning.
At Clemente High School, students are discussing starting a welcoming committee for students transferred from Austin High as it is phased out, said Freddie Calixto, executive director of BUILD Inc., which has worked with Clemente students on gang and violence issues for several years.
Fights went up dramatically at Clemente after Austin students were transferred there this year.
Of the welcoming committee Calixto said, “They could have done it this year,” but information about the student transfer “didn’t funnel down to the community level. People didn’t know what was going on, so they didn’t know how to respond.”
Clemente students are also planning to reach out to parents from the Austin area, and they have called for more security at the school and better training for security personnel, Calixto said.
They’ve also won administration support for scattered dismissal times, reviving a proposal that had been rejected in the past, he said.