I hope the fact that I have now seen a second story about high schools using mediation and reducing violence and suspensions means that there is a serious trend in the United States and that we are changing how we treat high school students, particularly in poorer neighborhoods.
This story from the Atlantic describes changes in a high school in Philadelphia. This school changed how it dealt with both conflict within the school and danger from a high crime neighborhood—all with what seem impressive results in a very short period of time. The school changed the physical realities—removing bars, metal detectors and other things that made it seem more like a jail, and less like a school. The school also changed how it treated the students, by raising expectations, using mediation to resolve conflict, and taking police officers out of the school.
As a Shaun Harper, a professor of education, said in the story, “Environment matters…If a school promotes academic rigor and going to college, that shapes student behavior. If a school’s environment feels unsafe and looks like a prison, then that does, also.”
It is a shame that it seems a controversial or highly innovative move for a school to decide to stop treating students with heavy-handed tactics and instead focus on treating them with respect and raising expectations.
The beginning of the article:
“Last year when American Paradigm Schools took over Philadelphia’s infamous, failing John Paul Jones Middle School, they did something a lot of people would find inconceivable. The school was known as “Jones Jail” for its reputation of violence and disorder, and because the building physically resembled a youth correctional facility. Situated in the Kensington section of the city, it drew students from the heart of a desperately poor hub of injection drug users and street level prostitution where gun violence rates are off the charts. But rather than beef up the already heavy security to ensure safety and restore order, American Paradigm stripped it away. During renovations, they removed the metal detectors and barred windows.
The police predicted chaos. But instead, new numbers seem to show that in a single year, the number of serious incidents fell by 90%.”