Teachers, administrators and other school staff in Illinois’ Dolton-Riverdale School District 148 recently spent a week training for a different approach to school discipline aimed at reducing suspension and expulsions.

The October training sessions included virtually all school employees who have contact with students to help build their skills for dealing with unruly students, many of whom struggle with various forms of trauma at home, from parents on drugs to violence and domestic abuse, The Daily Southtown reports.

The effort follows legislation adopted in 2015 that requires all schools to develop discipline policies focused on reserving suspensions as a last resort, and it’s clear the Dolton-Riverdale district is taking its responsibility seriously.

“As a district you’ve decided to embrace what we were trying to do,” said state Rep. Will Davis, sponsor of the legislation, known as SB 100. “I’ve never seen this level of involvement anywhere else.”

Davis and several other local leaders, politicians and educators attended the final day of training in Dolton-Riverdale schools to discuss the importance of the work, and to encourage educators to better connect with students who are struggling or lashing out in the classroom.

“Its goals were to limit lost instructional time, to reduce the racial disproportionality of school exclusions and to encourage educators to engage with the social-emotional needs of their students,” the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights said of SB100. “Harsh discipline is not the way to address what our students are going through in their daily life.”

“It’s about trying to understand where people are coming from, what their situations are,” District 148 Superintendent Kevin Nohelty said.

According to VOYCE, Voices of Youth in Chicago Education:

Illinois has one of the widest disparities between suspended black and white students in the country, according to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

In the 2012-13 school year, Chicago Public Schools issued 32 out-of-school suspensions for every 100 black students, compared to just five for every 100 white students.

Shinora Montgomery, principal at the district’s Early Childhood Center told those at the training session that as “the heart of the community,” it’s critical everyone in schools work together to reverse the cycle of trauma that often drives misbehavior in class.

“Without a strong educational center the community cannot thrive,” Montgomery said.

The work in Illinois and other states to address the issues students face outside of school is something James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, highlights as a key component of effective character education.

In “The Content of Their Character,” a summary of character education programs in a variety of American high schools, Hunter wrote:

We can only care for the young in their particularity. If we are not attentive to and understanding of these contexts, we are not caring for real, live human beings, but rather abstractions that actually don’t exist at all.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a wealth of research and information about working with students to overcome adversity.

In the report “Flourishing from the Margins,” an analysis of 3,250 students from a variety of backgrounds, researchers note students “categorized as ‘having purpose’ reported that family and friends, and particularly teachers and members of the community, had a greater and more positive influence on their sense of living a ‘good life’.”

 

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