Editor’s Note: It’s a treat to welcome back Jeannette Holtham as a guest blogger. In making a case for exposing every school student and faculty member to restorative justice practices, she offers a “dollars and sense” rationale. Jeannette may be reached at email@example.com. If you like what she says, please post a comment here or drop her an email.
Here’s a great math and logic problem:
If a school loses $6,800 for each student that drops out of school, why would that school overuse suspension, expulsion or police ticketing that has contributed to the average 50% dropout rate in major metro cities across America?
I see you’re scratching your head on this one. Okay, let’s add some examples to the equation just because I know you’re up for the challenge. [pullquote]When Howard Zehr’s book Changing Lenses fell into Jeannette Holtham’s lap more than a decade ago—literally, from a library bookshelf—she began to read. “The light just went on,” she says, as she read about this intriguing concept of restorative justice, a way to get offenders to be accountable for behaviors while making sure those they’d harmed got their needs met.[/pullquote]
An elementary school student accidentally breaks a knickknack on a teacher’s desk resulting in a police ticket for “criminal mischief.” An 11-year-old swings a bean bag in the classroom and it slips out of his hands and hits the teacher. The child is arrested for “third degree assault.” A high school student puts a small cardboard soup container into a microwave to heat and doesn’t notice that it contains a thin foil sheet under the cover.
After it burns out the microwave the student is permanently expelled for “destroying school property.” How about this one: four brothers and sisters don’t come to school for six weeks. The school files truancy charges and tells the students never to come back. It’s discovered weeks later that the single Mom couldn’t afford shoes for her children. Unfortunately, these are true stories from Colorado.[pullquote]Before she could take action on what she’d learned, however, she underwent a near-death, life-altering experience during surgery. With a second chance to live, after twelve weeks of recovery, she went skydiving, a metaphor for her promise to God and the Universe to take more risks to help youth, particularly those dealing with high-risk factors such as suspension, expulsion, and incarceration. [/pullquote]
It doesn’t take a math whiz to see that the bottom line is red. We taxpayers fund these ineffective punitive responses to wrongdoing (and believe you me, they are more prevalent than any of us would care to imagine). Thankfully, restorative justice is a worldwide movement reaching critical mass and offers a powerful tool for those educators who are committed to keeping kids in school. [pullquote]In 2005 Jeannette launched Youth Transformation Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring youth to leave risky behaviors behind and move toward healthier, more fulfilling lifestyles. In her curriculum called “Boomerang,” teens invent a big dream for their lives and get re-energized about school as a stepping stone in their action plan for life.[/pullquote] There’s even hope for America where we have the highest incarceration rate in the “civilized” world, where 2,300 people who went to prison before the age of 17 are serving life without parole, and where we seem to have no problem paying $68,000 a year to lock up a juvenile but have a big problem paying $6,800 to keep that child in school.
Restorative justice (RJ) exists to provide a safe, respectful circle dialog where offenders come face to face with those they’ve harmed in order to take responsibility for their behaviors and repair the harm to the greatest extent possible. Victims get to be heard, and together they come up with meaningful, relevant consequences for the offender, and they sign an agreement that is closely monitored by a facilitator to its conclusion. It works because it gives a school student a chance to return to the learning community with honor having done the right thing. It’s reducing discipline by as much as 60% even in high-risk, dangerous schools. Sadly, there are still many schools that have never heard of restorative justice which puts forth the challenge to all of us to alert our schools and educators to the worldwide grassroots movement of restorative justice now reaching critical mass.[pullquote] Her book could just as easily have been titled How to Put Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars Back into School Budgets.[/pullquote] This practical, no-nonsense guide gets right to the heart of how to keep school students in the classroom and stop the school-to-prison pipeline.
[amazon_enhanced asin="0982270615" /] Taking Restorative Justice to Schools: A Doorway to Discipline is the first practical, comprehensive “how to” guide for schools that want to launch a restorative justice component to their current discipline systems—a great teacher gift and now available online for $19.95 at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.