For Saint Paul Students and Educators, Restorative Practice is a Gift that Keeps on Giving

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Twelve-year-old “John Smith” used to vent his frustration by blustering through school hallways, slamming lockers, and cursing fate. A seventh grader dealing with emotional upheaval, John’s behavior consigned him to one classroom and curtailed his dream of playing basketball for his middle school team.

Barely a year later, John’s behavior has improved so much he’s joined his fellow students in mainstream classes and on the basketball court.

What changed?

“We introduced restorative practices and it’s not only transformed our school climate, it’s transforming students’ and educators’ lives,” says Shawn Davenport, one of two restorative practices coordinators at Farnsworth Aerospace Upper Campus in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Farnsworth, with a student population that’s over 90 percent students of color, the majority of those Asian-American, is one of nine pilot schools in a Restorative Practices program that’s a joint collaboration between the school district and local union affiliate.

“The question for us as a union was how to address school safety in a way that could be transformational and culture changing for the entire school community,” says Nick Faber, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers. “So we brought Restorative Practices to the bargaining table and included specific requirements in our contract language, including 800 hours of professional development for school staff.”

The RP program—which emphasizes shared problem solving, relationship building among the entire school community, and solutions that keep students in the classroom—was launched in the fall of 2016 in response to a statewide call for increased training and resources for educators and students dealing with escalating tensions, serious discipline problems, and high suspension levels, even in elementary schools.

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