It starts with a simple premise that seems obvious: If kids are in school, they're learning. And if they're learning, they're going to do better academically.
But keeping kids in school isn't always so simple.
That's why Karen Goodwin, director of alternative education for Littleton Public Schools, was so excited to get an $865,470, four-year grant from the state to try a new approach.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, “The restorative-justice model is emerging as one of the most dynamic and effective ways to address truancy without the use of suspension or court order.”
In fact, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill in 2011 that encourages each school district in Colorado to implement restorative-justice practices in disciplinary programs.
Restorative justice focuses not on punishment, but on righting the wrong. Amends must be made, all affected parties must be engaged and reintegration must occur.
“It looks at conflict as something good,” said Goodwin. “It means people care. They just need a way to work through that respectfully.”
LPS has hired a restorative-justice coordinator and is working with the Littleton-based Binning Family Foundation, The Conflict Center and Resolution Works to implement the Expelled and At-Risk Student Services restorative-justice program in its alternative schools. One component of EARSS is Emotional Intelligence and Critical Decision Making classes.
“(EICDM) is a skills-based curriculum specifically tailored to address concerns and difficulties youth are experiencing around making healthy decisions for themselves as well as how to recognize their emotions (specifically anger), and manage them in nonviolent ways,” according to The Conflict Center's website.
It also includes a parent-empowerment program and peer-leadership groups, all with the goal of reducing truancy and increasing academic achievement. Along the way, said Goodwin, it systematically builds a more positive environment.
At the end of the course, the student comes up with a contract that outlines how they'll behave in the future.
“Then we follow up, because they usually break that contract,” said Goodwin. But, she said, as long as teachers and parents persist, the success rate is good, averaging only about a 1 percent recidivism rate.