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The Penalty Box for Our Students


Years ago, when I was a principal, I put every child’s name on a separate piece of paper and taped the pages up in the hallway after school. During a faculty meeting, we all went into the hall and signed our names to the pages of those children with whom we thought we had some sort of a relationship — that is, did we know something about the kid’s home life, personal interests, activities? Did we think the child would come to us with a problem?

Then I took down the pages, and for students who had no signatures, we committed to connect them to the school in a meaningful way. We planned who would reach out to each child, who could easily engage with that student to talk about possible interests. We brainstormed the best ways to follow through.

Why did we do this in a school with about 450 students? Because the way we connect to our students and the ways in which we acknowledge them and let them know they are important matter.

Time Out or Time In?
We used to have out-of-school suspension in our school district. How dumb is that? A student has done something egregious, so we let that student stay home for three to five days. Sign me up, right?

We now have an in-school suspension program, and for all but the most serious safety issues, which are few and far between, our students are in school to fulfill any necessary consequence as part of our progressive discipline.

I’ve referred to the in-school suspension room as “the box” for my entire administrative career, a throwback to the many years of sitting at the ice hockey rink watching my son play the sport. Fighting on the ice leads to five minutes in the penalty box. Fighting in school? Five days in the box.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Sitting in the box during an ice hockey game is just that, sitting and waiting to be let out. Sometimes a hockey penalty resulting in a stint in the box was even considered worth it on a strategic level. My kid was a goon on the ice, so he often spent time in the box.

Time spent in our school district’s in-school suspension rooms cannot be the same as time spent in the penalty box on the ice. An in-school suspension room cannot be a place for a student to just sit and wait to get back out. That doesn’t do anything more than further alienate a student from the school.

Disconnected Kids
Our in-school suspension room is working for us because it’s working for our students. It’s physically connected to the high school’s main office and is staffed by our teaching assistant, Mrs. Luce, who’s connected to the students she serves. What she does in there with her “frequent fliers” reminds me very much of good parenting: She kicks them in the butt when needed, most often over their unwillingness to complete school work. Students who are approaching ineligibility to play sports for failing to complete assignments spend a lot of time in there as a pro-active way to keep our reluctant learners on track.

But just as good parents do, Mrs. Luce doesn’t just kick them in the butt when warranted. She also pats them on the back when deserved.

The students know she cares about them. They know the assistant principal who assigned in-school suspension cares about them because he checks on them. And they know the principal and the teachers care because the room is connected to the school. It’s open, and we all visit it frequently.

It’s not a place to further disconnect our kids, get them out of the way or alienate them because of their bad behavior. It’s a place to more consistently connect them to our school so they care. And when they say they don’t care, we show them that we care enough for both of us.

We’re far from perfect. We can do more for so many of our students, but this is a darn good start.

Kimberly Moritz is superintendent of Randolph Central Schools in Randolph, N.Y. E-mail: kmoritz@rand.wnyric.org. Twitter: @kimberlymoritz. She blogs at http://kimberlymoritz.com.



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