Proven Success Reducing School Violence And Dropout Rates

selconfwordle1Last week we identified the risks to our most vulnerable students from zero tolerance discipline codes — more suspensions, more dropouts and more youth incarceration, all disproportionately impacting minority and special needs students — and the Department of Education’s efforts to support more effective and less discriminatory policies. (THE YOUTH FORUM:  FROM ZERO TOLERANCE TO RESTORATIVE JUSTICE).  Today, we consider a solution:  Umoja Student Development Corporation’s Restorative Justice model creates the conditions for students and teachers to restore conflicts and reduce disciplinary infractions through social, emotional and behavioral skills that leave teachers better positioned to delivery high quality instruction.  Based in Chicago, Umoja focuses on the school as a strategic arena for the prevention, intervention and interruption of the vicious cycle of community conflict, violence and retaliation.  Umoja utilizes a whole school Restorative Justice model, which includes strategic planning with administrators and school leaders on restorative justice, discipline and behavior systems; a peace room which serves as a hub for restorative practices and interventions; a disciplinary intervention curriculum which teaches social-emotional and leadership skills; professional development for teachers and school staff; and Community Builders: an intensive summer internship for students designed to develop student voice and leadership in Umoja’s partner schools.

AND THE RESULTS SO FAR?  Since UMOJA introduced the program into Manley High School in the 2010-2011 academic year, dropout rates have been reduced by 85% and out-of-school suspensions have dropped 30%.  In just one year of programming at Foreman High School, drop-out rates were reduced by 13% and higher level discipline referrals, mostly related to violence, dropped 15%.  In just the first year of the program at Sullivan High School, there were 36 first quarter out-of-school suspensions compared to 472 total last year.  Restorative Justice programming has demonstrative success.  It should be supported and emulated.  In contrast, zero tolerance has served to strengthen the school to prison pipeline, further removing our most vulnerable children from the education so critical to any hope so many of them will have for a meaningful future.  In Illinois, one of every four African American public school students was suspended at least once during the 2009/2010 school year – the highest rate in the country.  We can do better.  We and our children deserve nothing less.

For more information, see the informational links below and UMOJA’s response to the new federal discipline guidelines.




(Full Disclosure:  I am a UMOJA Director)


The epidemic of youth heroin addiction has just become too immediate, too real and too harmful.  So today’s post is dedicated to our friends and our community who now grieve from a tragic loss — and who courageously wish to turn their loss into hope for others.  To quote others more impacted and knowledgeable than I am:  The Jordan Michael Filler Foundation – Saving our Children from Heroin, has been established to take Jordan’s fight out from behind closed doors and into the spotlight, creating awareness of this horrible addiction through scientific research, legislative reform, increased public awareness, and treatment to children whose families cannot afford it.  1.7% of Americans age 12 or older try heroin. 23% become addicted (Nat’l Institute of Drug Abuse). The number of heroin users has increased 60% in the past decade. The average dose of heroin costs $9 and, according to NIDA, “is now often one of the first drugs tried by youths interested in experimenting.”  As our friends emerge from the shock of their loss, they come together with determination to save others from the devastation of heroin by creating the Foundation.  With all of our love and support.  Donations can be made  to The Jordan Michael Filler Foundation; c/o Lisa & Tom Aronson; 2421 Shadow Creek Lane; Riverwoods, IL 60015.  Here is a link to the WEBSITE and here is link to the FACEBOOK PAGE for the Foundation.  Additional information from the National Institute of Drug Abuse is below.  Thank you.


From Zero Tolerance To Restorative Justice

booksscale.jpgTough school discipline codes like zero-tolerance policies often result in mandatory suspensions, expulsion or arrest, often for non-violent offenses that could be dealt with in the school, robbing students of classroom time, needed interventions and mentorship, all while disproportionately impacting black, Hispanic and special education students.  Students who are suspended even once are more likely to drop out, and young people who drop out of high school are more than 8 times as likely to be incarcerated as those who graduate.  The U.S. Department of Education has issued new guidelines advising schools on steps to avoid discriminatory policies and reinforce positive behavior over tactics that drive students out of school.  Additional information is in the links below.  Next time, I’ll report on success stories in Chicago — schools that have dramatically reduced suspensions and drop out rates through effective restorative justice programming and support.

Medlll Reports on the Impact of Suspensions  New U.S. guidelines shift away from zero-tolerance policies  The Civil Rights of Children

Breaking the link between mental disorders and juvenile incarceration

Juvenile-Justice-CourthouseMost children in contact with the juvenile justice system meet the criteria for mental disorders, but few receive the help that could vastly improve their prospects for attaining productive lives.  The MacArthur Foundation and the Substantive Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are collaborating on an effort to break the path from mental disorder to the juvenile justice system.  Up to five states will be selected competitively to participate in a new initiative based on the states’ commitment to improving policies and programs, emphasizing the diversion of children with mental and substantive use disorders from the juvenile justice system, screening and assessment practices and increased collaboration among stakeholders to facilitate access to the most effective treatment and services.  We’ll be watching for the results.


14 year old facing near-certain life in prison without parole despite Supreme Court rulings

The United States Supreme Court, in decisions limiting sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders, recognized what psychologists have long recognized and parent instinctively learn:  the teenage brain is different.  Young offenders are less mature and experienced, less able to exercise good judgment and self-restraint, more susceptible to peer pressure and environmental influence, and limited in their ability to assist in their own defense, as compared to adult offenders.  They have demonstrated a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults guilty of the same offense.  Kids are categorically less culpable than adults.  Despite the Supreme Court rulings, some state courts are now imposing near-certain lifelong sentences to child offenders (in comparison even mass murder Charles Manson has been eligible for many parole hearings, all denied). Below is a story of Shimeek Gridine and the sentencing decisions now being challenged.