MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Nowadays, children have stresses and challenges that can be too great for even adults to understand. Rather than disciplining students when there is a conflict in school, KIPP Memphis Public Schools are turning to a conflict resolution approach that also supports mental health.
Donovan Scott is a fifth grader at KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary.
“I want to be a bio scientist, a bio scientist who studies life and wildlife throughout this planet. I’ve learned about the wildlife and how they’re endangered,” said Scott.
It is a desire to be a voice for the voiceless and an approach Scott has learned first-hand. At the beginning of the school year, Scott was getting into trouble.
“Sometimes, I get mad at one of my fellow students. I mean fellow classmates. Sometimes, I just yell at them or have loud outbursts at them,” said Scott.
Instead of detentions and suspensions, KIPP schools use the restorative justice approach.
“Restorative justice is a program where we allow students to be able to settle conflicts not only with themselves but also with additional adults,” said Tomeka Frazier, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary Assistant Principal. “We allow the student to tell us why they committed the infractions. Who did it impact? Who did it involve? What else could have happened to make things better?”
Frazier said when it comes to suspension and detentions, there are some limitations.
“They did not work well because you would have students suspended for several reasons, but you didn’t allow the students to have their due process,” said Frazier. “You must listen to the student…You can’t be quick to make a decision about something that happened.”
At times, the conflicts can stem from larger issues such as mental health or challenges outside of school.
“We give them strategies that they can use, strategies to think about what you’re doing before you do it,” said Frazier.
“Sometimes I do deep breaths. Sometimes I make sure I don’t talk back to them,” said Scott. “Restorative justice means some of the adults have to make sure they hear the students’ voices. I think my goal being a bio scientist will take that and I’ll hear what I need to say and I make sure they understand what I’m saying.” It is a solid finish to a rocky start.
KIPP Memphis now uses restorative justice for all schools from Pre-K to high school. They said it is a way for students to get in the habit of resolving conflicts before facing them in the real world.