Pittsfield’s alternative discipline program gains national attention

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Pittsfield Middle High School has been recognized state- and nationwide as a model for student-centered learning, and it extends far beyond just instruction. The school truly focuses on students owning their learning and their futures by holding them accountable to their peers through their restorative justice program, which was featured in an article by The Atlantic. 

The program allows students to act as mediators for some discipline problems, where students come together and talk out their problems and identify underlying reasons for their behaviors. Mediators help identify the appropriate action for the offender.

Experts, and students, agree that though the program isn’t right for every school, it can help students develop skills that will help them in many aspects of their lives:

“Students are learning what conflict resolution really means, as well as critical social-emotional skills,” Thena Robinson-Mock [of the Advancement Project, a national civil-rights organization] said. “They’re developing empathy for their peers, and building trust and understanding. Those are essential skills that everybody needs.”

“You definitely think twice about how you’re going to handle a situation,” said Raquel Sheridan, a junior at Pittsfield. “If there’s somebody I’m not getting along with, before I might have freaked out and said things I shouldn’t have said. Now I ask, ‘What would I do in a JC [justice committee] situation?’ You wouldn’t lash out at them. You would stop and think about what you’re going to say.”

“We often assume adolescents aren’t capable of these kinds of thoughtful interactions, but they just need to be given the opportunity to develop that capacity,” Kathy Evans [assistant professor at Eastern Mennonite University] said. “We need to stop underestimating students and trying to motivate and regulate them with carrots and sticks.”

Read the full article here.