It’s in the genes

It’s in the genes

It’s in the genes
we hear of youngsters
crazy about books
and reading too

It’s in the genes
and not their jeans
I must add as I have
my mother’s English
tea-drinking habits

Crazy about books
and reading too
like their parents
and their parents before

(might we lionize them
rather than those
who tyrannized nations
colonized people
and played apartheid sport)

It’s in the genes
and not their jeans
or trousers, if anyone
still uses that word

(Did they honour
World Read Aloud Day
by reading up a tree)

Crazy about books
and not shiny objects
and brand labels

It’s in the genes
crazy about books
and reading too

Aren’t you

A social media tale (or “chronicle”) courtesy of Brenda Rhode – she of Young Authors Club fame and fortune – gets my chromosomes going, sometime Tuesday 17 April 2013.

David Kapp

Youth United: We have a solution – restorative justice

 

My name is Haydi Torres, and I am a member of Alexandria United Teens.  I am also a student at T.C. Williams High School in the International Academy. I am here today to lift up the voices of students who, every day, face the suspension problem in Alexandria schools.

Too many of my friends and classmates—and too many of our little brothers and sisters in middle and elementary school—are getting suspended. As students, we watch what happens when our friends and classmates get suspended, and we know it doesn’t work.

When students are suspended, we don’t get a chance to work on whatever it was that made us act out in the first place. And being sent home from school makes us feel like we don’t matter, that our school does not care about or believe in us.

For example, there was someone at my school who was suspended recently for getting in a fight with another student. Suspending the student for fighting did not solve anything. One student got to stay home, sleep, play video games, and get a vacation from school. The other student got more and more angry waiting for the first student to come back to school. Whatever the students were fighting about became an even bigger issue because they never talked about it. The school never actually made them deal with it.

Even though I’ve never been suspended, when things like this happen, I am affected too. It makes me feel like school is a place just interested in pushing us out when we make mistakes, instead of helping us to learn from them.

What makes the situation worse is that we know some students are suspended more than others. In 2010-11, the District shared data with us that showed that black students were 5 times more likely to receive a suspension than white students. Latino students were almost 3 times more likely to receive a suspension than white students. Suspensions, which we know don’t work, are especially used to punish students of color.  Students who look like me.

I am sad to know that this is happening in our schools. I know that teachers, our school leaders, and the city I love are also saddened by this.  I know we all believe we can and must all work together to fix it.

The good news is we already know that there is a better, proven way to handle student behavior than suspensions: restorative justice.

Restorative justice practices help teachers, students, and others talk about the root causes of conflicts, mistakes and bad behaviors. In the example of my classmates who got in a fight, a teacher or a counselor could have talked to each student separately. If they agreed, they could have then brought them together in a circle to talk about what caused the fight and how the fight affected each person.

It sounds so simple, but with the right training, we know it can reduce suspensions and improve school relationships.

My name is Glancy Rosales and I am a member of Alexandria United Teens.  I am also a student at T.C. Williams. As Haydi said, the bad news is that too many students are getting suspended. The good news is that we have a solution: restorative justice.

Today is not the first time students and community members have raised the issue of bringing restorative justice in our schools.  Since the fall of 2011, I have been part of a group of youth and community members that served as part of the “Student Empowerment Work Group. That group was part of the Student Achievement Advisory Committee. For many months, we attended meetings with the school district.

One of our key recommendations during that process was restorative justice.             In the end, after all that work, restorative justice disappeared from the Work Group’s final recommendations. Although we were frustrated by the way that the community was treated in this process, we think there is now a new chance to work together: the Alexandria City School Board, the school district, and the community.

Great things are possible when the community and the school system works together to make changes. We actually have a successful history of doing that with the district. For example, TWU worked with School Superintendent Dr. Sherman, the District, and our ally Advancement Project on the creation of the ICAP, the Individual Career and Academic Plan.

Getting restorative justice in our schools is another opportunity to work together.

Our ally Advancement Project is a national organization that supports community groups like TWU, the Tenants and Workers United. In Denver, Colorado, Advancement Project worked with Padres y Jovenes Unidos, a community group, and their school district to implement restorative justice. Their work has created a great relationship between the community and the district, and has reduced suspensions.

We are proud of our city and our school and we hope we can be a part of that kind of process and success in Alexandria. So today, we have three requests for the Alexandria City School Board.

First, express your support for restorative justice in words and in actions. Many School Board members have listened carefully to the voices of the students and the community.  We are thankful for that. We would like to hear support from the whole board.

Second, make funding available to bring restorative justice into our schools. Recently, the district expressed interest in having a pilot at TC Williams High School. We support this proposal.

Third, Please make sure youth and community, the people who are most harmed by suspensions, are very involved in implementing restorative justice. We ask you to make sure we get to work with the District to implement restorative justice. As we know, school systems are strongest when we work in partnership and when the voices of youth and community are heard and respected.

(Haydi Torres and Glancy Rosales are high school students in the Alexandria City Public Schools. They are also members of Alexandria United Teens, a project of the Tenants and Workers United. They recently gave a version of the above as testimony to the Alexandria City School Board. Thanks to Haydi and Glancy, to the Alexandria United Teens, and to the Tenants and Workers United for this collaboration.)

 

(Photo Credit: The Connection / Vernon Miles)