LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In an effort to improve student behavior and relationships across the district, Jefferson County Public Schools is implementing restorative practices in all of its 150 plus schools within the next six years.
JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio and CLOUT (Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together) jointly announced the expansion at Engelhard Elementary Monday.
Building student relationships at school is the core of the program.
Teachers and staff at Engelhard Elementary were trained in restorative practices about three years ago.
Ever since, JCPS says suspensions have been down by almost 80 percent.
"It works on helping children build those relationships in a classroom, build community, support it each other and really cope with trauma and resolve conflict in a community type setting," Pollio said.
The program aims to look at alternatives to school suspensions. Restorative practices are about finding creative ways to mend relationships after harm has been done like a fight or argument between students.
"When students feel isolated they're less likely to peak academically," Engelhard Elementary Principal Ryan McCoy said. "But when they really feel like they belong and they can have those academic conversations with their peers, that only increases the academics and the engagement."
During the news conference, 5th graders at Engelhard Elementary demonstrated what that looks like.
A teacher gathered them in a circle to express how they are feeling and together they are encouraged to come up with solutions to a problem.
"I used to be so shy and nervous, but at circle time I feel like I can express myself and get stuff off my chest," Christian Johnson said. Johnson is a 5th grader at Engelhard Elementary. "We talk about what we're doing, how we feel, and then if we're not feeling good they try to help us with what's going on."
About 30 schools are currently using restorative practices. Next summer, 20 more schools will undergo training.
"I'm definitely an advocate for restorative practices because I believe it works and I've seen it work," McCoy said. "That sense of belonging making them want to come to school, feel like they belong and building those relationships makes a huge difference."
Resource teachers from the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) for Behavior team will lead wall-to-wall training next summer. It will involve theory and exercises. Everyone from administrators, teachers, to janitors will be trained.