by Chris Bavender
An initiative by the Peace Learning Center is helping IPS schools move from punitive to restorative discipline practices. Billed as a holistic program, One Indy was started four years ago and has worked with 10 schools over that time. This academic year, there are six One Indy school partners.
“Schools that become One Indy schools receive one of our facilitators for a few school days a week, field trips for all grades and the school, and in-class social and emotional learning sessions for PreK through 2nd grade and 4th through 6th grades,” said Natalie Spriggs, director of program management at the center. “The schools receive up to 10 family workshops, up to 12 hours of professional development in restorative practices and implicit bias, peer mediation training and support, restorative practices coaching, and circle leading.”
The One Indy program has three main objectives:
- Improved student behavior
- Increased student protective factors
- Positive school climate
“We try to help change the culture within the school system from punitive to restorative,” Spriggs said. “This gives students basic skills in conflict resolution and how to problem-solve when there’s an issue or harm has been done.”
One partner school is IPS/Butler University Laboratory School 60. It’s the second year the school has participated in the One Indy program.
“Philosophically [Peace Learning Center’s] approach is really aligned nicely with our values and beliefs as educators. I think the students, teachers, and parents who participated last year in field trips felt those were really impactful opportunities for the kids,” said Ron Smith, principal at Butler Lab. “[One Indy facilitator] Mame Keita’s work with the school was wonderful, and she was great about thinking with teachers and problem solving and putting new structures in place to help students with social skills development.”
Smith said that while he strongly believes a school’s main focus needs to be on academic skills and state standards, schools also need to pay attention to what he terms “soft skills.”
“Any time you read research studies about what the corporate world tells us they want out of the next generation of employees, they say they need people who think outside the box, are critical thinkers, problem solvers, and see things from multiple perspectives,” Smith said. “But sometimes the intensity of standardized testing can push schools into a box where they think, ‘We don’t have time to develop soft skills or think about social skill development of kids.’ I believe it’s really important to develop the whole child, and I think learning happens best in classrooms that are operating smoothly, that are peaceful, that when there might be a conflict students are equipped with skills to navigate those conflicts successfully.”
Mame Keita is at the school two days a week. “My role with One Indy is to be a resource for restorative practices and social-emotional learning. I facilitate most of the workshops regarding these topics lessons for the students, professional development for teachers, and sessions for parents as well,” Keita said. “We aim to emphasize relationships as a cradle of learning so that the students can explore their full potential.”
On the days Keita is at the school she typically has a schedule that takes her to all the classrooms of a specific grade for lessons that last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. “Then we are available to help create their peer mediator team and help solve conflicts that are going on or support teachers if they have questions or concerns,” she said. “School staff are naturally involved because teachers more specifically are the most impactful people in the school system and we need them and the administration to be on board for the mindset shift to happen. Without their buy-in and their continued effort to carry the restorative practices in our absence, it will not happen anymore.”
Because One Indy’s focus is prevention and early acquisition of skills, facilitators typically work with kindergarten (sometimes prekindergarten) to 6th-grade classes. Keita said students in upper grades—4th to 6th—are usually chosen by school administration to be peer mediators and are trained to help their peers solve conflict peacefully.
Being a One Indy partner is a big commitment for the school as well as the Peace Learning Center, Smith said. “Facilitators are truly embedded and an important part of our school during that time period,” Smith said. “It’s a powerful approach to bringing new opportunities and programs to schools.”
And it’s an approach that seems to be working. At the end of the last school year, Butler Lab 4th-grade students wrote letters to Keita about their experiences with One Indy. She shared some of their thoughts.
“I loved it when you taught us to listen better. Peace to me means when everyone lives in harmony.”
“I think Peace means to be kind and to treat people how you want to be treated. May the 4th be with you Mrs. Mame.”
“I felt like you help us grow.”
“Dear Mrs. Mame, thank you for coming in our classroom every Wednesday. I have learned so much like to be respectful, peaceful and nice. Thank you.”
“She is a very special person to staff and students alike who really enjoy working with her,” Smith said. “Some of the structures and routines Peace Learning Center advocates for already were in place, but one thing they helped us add was to begin to have deeper conversations with kids during the morning meeting, so using that not just for sharing what they did over the weekend—which has value—but to also talk about challenges and problems that might be causing stress in the classroom community.”
“Working at Butler Lab was wonderful. They already have a great culture of positivity and support for their students by being a Reggio school, so the restorative approach was a great fit,” Keita said. “I would rate our first year as a good start. Because being a restorative school takes time, I value Butler Lab’s commitment and continued efforts toward that goal.”
In addition to Butler Lab, other 2018–2019 One Indy School partners include:
- IPS 49 William Penn School – Year 1 School
- IPS 19 Frederick Douglass Super School – Year 2 School
- IPS 47 Edison School of the Arts – Year 2 School
- IPS 82 Christian Park – Year 2 School
- IPS 107 Lew Wallace – Year 3 School
Chris Bavender is a freelance writer in SoBro with more than 20 years’ experience as a print and broadcast journalist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @chris_bavender.