November 25, 2019. The Courier-Journal.

Jefferson County Public Schools will expand its restorative practice efforts to another 20 schools before the start of the 2020-21 school year, the district announced Monday. 

Teachers and administrators at about 30 JCPS schools have been trained in restorative practices — a research-backed method to improve behavior and increase student belonging and relationships.

CLOUT, a social justice-centered organization, has pushed JCPS to implement restorative practices for a decade. Superintendent Marty Pollio promised the group that the district will have restorative practices in all 155 schools within six years. 

“We know that whole-school restorative practices will bring transformative improvements to our children, our schools and our community as a whole,” said the Rev. Reginald Barnes, the co-president of CLOUT, which stands for Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together.

The schools that will receive wall-to-wall training next summer are expected to be identified in the coming weeks, district spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin said. 

Restorative efforts, at their core, center on restoring relationships after harm has been done. 

Tonkeyta Rodgers, Olmsted Academy North principal, shared a story of two students who got into an argument. The offending student needed to ask the other student questions, eventually realizing how he hurt him, before apologizing. 

“It gives people that voice,” Rodgers said. “People are ready to explain and then be able to understand the other person.”

Engelhard, a high-poverty school near downtown Louisville, is in its third year of using restorative practices. Its suspension rate dropped nearly 80% after implementing things such as restorative circles, called “circle time.” 

While used as an alternative to discipline, restorative practices can also act as an antidote to the trauma students may carry with them into the classroom. 

It can also help students open up with others and understand what their classmates are going through. 

“Circle time helps me because I used to be so shy and nervous,” Engelhard fifth grader Christian Johnson said, “but at circle time, I can express myself and get stuff off my chest.” 

Centered on the gym floor, teacher Blake Graham led her fifth grade class through a mock restorative circle after the district announcement.

Passing a ball from one to another, students explained their “level” — what they were feeling and any stress or issues they carried into the classroom. 

“We are a community and we tell each other how we feel,” said Ryan McCoy, Engelhard’s principal, sharing student comments on the process.

“Morning circle is good because it helps overcome how you’re feeling. Another student says it gets stress off your back. You can let it out, and it helps get rid of all the emotions.”

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