Youth shift the culture of schools in the city
Across this country, youth are experiencing extreme hopelessness-drop-out, discrimination, poverty, lack of opportunity. But in Rhode Island, youth from Young Voices are doing something about it.
Three years ago, our youth surveyed thousands of fellow students in Providence, asking what could be done to raise graduation and attendance rates. The message from their peers was loud and clear: there is a serious issue
Young Voices youth facilitating their Restorative Justice training.
with the way discipline is handled in our schools. A recent report from the ACLU backs them up: "A decade's worth of statistics have unequivocally demonstrated that racial disparities in suspension rates are pervasive" and there is a need to "take critical steps toward minimizing the use of out of school suspensions in favor of a system that keeps students in school, and away from the school-to-prison pipeline."
So for the past three years, Young Voices members have been working to shift the culture in their schools---from punitive discipline that targets certain youth and pushes them out of school, to places of engaged learning with fair discipline practices, through restorative justice. Youth have been hard at work:
- Testifying at the State House in favor of ensuring suspensions are used only when students are a threat to safety, and not for subjective, non-violent reasons
- Helping to design a new Code of Conduct for city schools that incorporates restorative justice
- Meeting with Providence Mayor Elorza, as part of the Providence Youth Caucus, to push for reducing suspensions for non-violent offenses
- Presenting their data at a major city-wide conference, pushing for restorative justice to be integrated into every school in the district
- Pushing the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet to incorporate restorative justice in its efforts to improve school attendance
And now, the youth are leading trainings for teachers, locally and regionally, in how to implement restorative justice---showing, from a student perspective, what works to have students feel welcome and safe in their schools:
"This is an important chance to train teachers and youth workers in exactly what we need to be successful in school. If we continue to train adult leaders in restorative justice, I believe it will help solve some of the racial inequalities we face in terms of school discipline in Rhode Island." David, Young Voices member, age 15.