School's disciplinary message: We want you here
Jul 23, 2012
The head of security at Richmond High School is Darryl Robinson. But everyone there knows him as "Coach D." When he started 15 years ago, fights broke out nonstop. Students roamed the halls. And things didn't improve much over the years.
Robinson remembers standing in front of a classroom and asking how many students had ever seen someone get killed.
"Every hand in the room shot up," he said.
Robinson and the school took a no-nonsense approach to restoring order. If students fought, they were suspended for five days. If they were five minutes late, they got detention. If they didn't show, they were sent to Saturday school. No-shows to Saturday school were suspended.
Last year, with an enrollment of approximately 1,600 students, the school issued nearly 500 suspensions.
But the discipline didn't make things better, Robinson admits: "The kids come back, and I guarantee whatever they did will happen again."
....At first, Robinson was skeptical when he first heard of "restorative justice," an approach to discipline requiring students and teachers to talk through their conflicts and jointly decide how to remedy them.
But he played along. When two students got into a fight, he took them to a mediator instead of sending them home.
"They went in that room two raging bulls," said Robinson. "Thirty minutes later, they came out all smiling and laughing. I thought, what the heck is going on?"
Instead of just receiving punishment, the students described how they felt, how they had contributed to the harm and how the harm could be repaired. The gist, Robinson said, was "doing with" students rather than "doing to" them.
Even three guys who jumped a kid in the lunchroom weren't automatically suspended. Teachers took them to a mediator and called their parents in. As everyone talked, they realized it had been a misunderstanding over a girl. The boys left shaking hands.