A Great Idea

My posts have all been negative lately.  I guess it's been a rough week.  But I was really inspired after reading about this idea, being implemented in Milwaukee schools:

So maybe there was a little drama between you and another ninth-grader, you know, some problem.

You could get suspended for that at a lot of schools, three days or until your mom or dad comes in and has a conference with the principal or somebody like that.

At Audubon Technology & Communication Center High School, you have a circle.

Maybe 10 people, mostly other ninth-graders, sit in a circle, with some object like an electric candle in the middle. You can't talk unless you're holding on to a ball or a little figure or something that that you have to pass around to each other.

There's an icebreaker to start the conversation - what's your favorite food, that kind of thing. Everything that is said is supposed to be confidential, and no one can speak without respecting everyone else. Then down to business, with one of the kids leading the discussion and following a process in which everyone gets to present their side and talk about what impact the problem had on them. Then there's a discussion of what ought to be done and how to get to a point of trust and respect.

You're supposed to work it out, in other words.

When we fought, as kids, there was always The Couch.  My parents sent us there, seated at opposite ends, until we'd resolved the problem.  This is basically the same thing.  And, just like my brilliant parents' idea, it works:

As of last week, there had been only four suspensions so far this school year among about 100 ninth-graders at Audubon . . . in Milwaukee Public Schools as a whole, 45% of ninth-graders were suspended at least once during the 2007-'08 school year.

The most interesting thing about the article (which really deserves a full reading) is that the presence of other students often serves as a more strict watchdog than administration alone:

Teachers say that often the students speak more strongly to kids who caused problems than staff members themselves would, and hearing it from people their age has more impact on the offenders.

I have seen this often.  The truth is that good students resent interruptions and rule violations even more than teachers.  Last week one of my colleagues, Harriet, unloaded on me about a student who had been extremely disrespectful in her critique of a recent test.  Harriet was pretty rattled by the incident until after class, when several other students came up to her to apologize for their classmate's actions and voice their support of Harriet and the test she had given.  It's great to see kids take a stand for justice, even when it means standing up for The Rules.