Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Student Offenders Face their Victims—Not Suspension

Student Offenders Face their Victims--Not Suspension

Launched in 2012, the Wellness & Restorative Partnership Program—an SDSU-based project of the Schools of Psychology, Early Childhood Development, and Nursing—introduced City Heights, a community in San Diego, to a new way of resolving conflict both on the elementary school campus and in the community.

Rather than suspend or expel a misbehaving student, Cherokee Point Elementary School uses mediation techniques based in the theory of restorative justice as an alternative to the zero-tolerance policies that aim to punish and exclude--tactics that increase the likelihood of negative life outcomes. To goal of the mediation/restorative justice techniques is to eliminate the “school to prison pipeline,” according to a recent report of The Civil Rights Project.

Dr. Alan Mobley of the School of Public Affairs at SDSU agreed that the current form of most school discipline strategies is detrimentally punitive rather than positive. Instead, the Wellness & Restorative Partnership Program aims to reverse that trend by focusing on three core tenets: healing, reconciliation, and the restoration of relationships.

“Restorative justice looks at law breaking, not as primarily a violation of the law, but primarily as harm committed in communities, and the harms experienced by community members are thought to be especially troublesome because they damage relationships,” Mobley explained. “Restorative justice is primarily concerned with looking at harms and looking at relationships, and moving towards healing: healing the harm done to those directly involved, and healing relationships that occur between people.”

This community-centric approach means those connected to Cherokee Point play a large role in the project. In addition to SDSU, the San Diego Unified School District, local law enforcement, social activists, youth leaders, and parents are all included in the program.

A foundation within the community

The program at Cherokee Point Elementary is based on the Trauma Informed Community Schools (TICS) model—an approach that balances student safety with community engagement.

Courses in parenting, English, and computer literacy are housed at the school, allowing local residents to see Cherokee Point as a local hub of interaction rather than a fortress that shields its students from the outlying neighborhoods—something Dr. Mobley feels negates positive relationships between students and their community.

“Elementary schools are often closed off environments—separated from communities,” Mobley explained. “The implicit idea is the children in the school need to be protected from the community,”

In an era of school shootings and other school-based violence, Mobley is aware of the reality facing schools.

“The community school tries to be informed by the risks and the dangers that seem to be a reality in today's world,” he elaborated, “while at the same time utilizing the school as a part of the community as opposed to apart from the community.”

Leadership training that teaches parents how to access social services and dispute resolution courses that show residents how to advocate for their communities are also key to the success of the program.

The future of the program

When asked what the future holds for the pilot program, Mobley is all smiles. His hope is to counter the “school to prison pipeline” with the “cradle to college” approach. Plans to integrate the program at nearby Woodrow Wilson Middle School, and eventually Hoover High School are already in the works.

As students move on from one level of education to the next, Mobley is confident the program will advance alongside them, lifting the overall quality of life for the schools' surrounding areas.

Asked how SDSU will fit into future models of the program, Mobley said the university aims to position itself as a major player in community engagement.

“We are a part of this community, and we aim to serve it as well as be a part of it.”

The Wellness & Restorative Partnership project was made possible by the support of the California Endowment and Price Charities.

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