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Restorative justice for everyone: An innovative program and case study from Turners Falls High School in Massachusetts

April 17, 2014

Turners Falls High School began a program this year where every student who is referred out of class meets with a teacher trained in restorative practices. After a conference the student is asked to fill out a “Ticket Out” which asks the traditional restorative questions: What happened; what were you thinking; what were you feeling; was any harm done; and how can you repair that harm? Failure to complete the ticket out in a satisfactory way is not punished or scorned, but students must stay in the ALC or the Alternative Learning Center until they make a plan to restore the harm they caused. The reasoning behind this approach is that if a person did damage to the community they need to repair that damage before re‐entering that community. The ALC teacher is a certified teacher so students do not lose learning time to discipline; rather, they learn discipline in addition to their coursework.

Typically, a student will have had a short argument with a teacher or perhaps refused to give up thier cell phone after being asked. So a restorative session would concentrate on the lost learning time for other students while the teacher was occupied, and on the hurt feelings and frustration on the part of the teacher. Students are also encouraged to list themselves as a person harmed in the conflict. Often an apology is all that is called for, but sometimes students will offer to hand out papers or do some other tedious task that the teachers usually performs in order to give back some lost time. After the apology and task completion, teachers are asked to welcome the student back into the class community with a gesture and words of praise.

Early in the 2013‐2014 school year a student was referred to ALC for refusing to participate in academics, which lead to a heated argument between the teacher and student involving insulting and profane language. This student, (Tim, as a pseudonym) had isited ALC for at least one block nearly every single day of the 2012‐2013 school year, before the current restorative program was begun. He is a kind hearted student who struggles with academics in general and is unmotivated to succeed in school. In the 2012/13 year he failed every class but one. When referred to ALC this time he blamed the teacher and the school for the incident, refusing to acknowledge that he had done anything wrong, or did any harm. He was asked to stay in ALC and he did for the entire day. Tim was told that he would have to report back to ALC in the morning. He skipped school for the next two days. On the fourth day he came to school but avoided ALC. He was found, and sent to ALC, but he still refused to accept any responsibility. At this point staff worried that the incident had become a contest of wills. The student skipped two more days, and then again tried to sneak into mainstream classes, only to be brought back to ALC. This time instead of staying for the day, he called home and was dismissed. But then, the next day Tim came to school finally ready to write his ticket out. 

Read the full article.


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