How Frontier Middle School decreased suspensions from 328 per year to 54

In the 2017/18 school year, Frontier Middle School was still “old school.” Like many other schools around the country, they were still using punitive punishments like suspensions and detentions when students’ behavior crossed the proverbial line.

The 1985 comedy The Breakfast Club features five students who serve a Saturday detention at school — a classic example of punitive punishments.

But a philosophical change has taken place at Frontier, and this school year, the number of suspensions in the school has fallen from 328 to 54.

That’s not to say kids aren’t being called to the carpet when they cross the line. The school has turned to a new method of discipline.

Restorative Justice

Instead of simply punishing the behavior, the Restorative Justice model of discipline follows the way students are already learning in class:

Teach. Practice. Reinforce. Repeat.

Frontier Middle School Principal Mark Barnes said what works in math and English class can also work when it comes to helping students understand that a change in behavior is needed.

“No classroom instruction time is lost,” he added.

Instead of a suspension, students work through a Canvas course that incorporates education, reflection, problem solving, learning from their choices, and changing behaviors.

For example, this year when some Frontier students showed disrespect to a substitute teacher, they all worked through the Canvas course, and were required to welcome all the substitutes into the building before school the following week.

Dr. Jennifer Bethman, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools, said the Restorative Justice model is in all of our schools in varying degrees.

“It’s not that we won’t suspend, but the first choice needs to be that we’re teaching and we’re solving the problems, and we’re not just kicking kids out of school right away.”

In the schools that are fully adopting this new model, Bethman says the climate feels different. “The schools as a whole feel a little bit calmer,” she said.

“What we were doing wasn’t changing behaviors, and in fact it was negatively impacting the academic progress of our students,” she said. “So if it’s not working and having a negative impact on student learning — which is our ultimate job — then we have to do something different”

Behavior Example:

Student stealing food from the school cafeteria.

Historical Response:

Suspension for theft, misses a day or more of school.

Restorative Justice Response:

1. Student stays after school and completes a reflection survey about
his behavior.
2. Student reads one or more articles, written to the teenage
level, about honesty, integrity, and stealing.
3. Student completes reflective writing about what he has learned.
4. Student creates a written plan for changed future behavior.
5. Parents are involved and will follow up at home with further
consequences, discussion, and learning.

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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