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Restorative Practices and the Transformation at West Philadelphia High School

Jun 29, 2009

From Laura Mirsky's article for the Restorative Practices E-Forum

West Philadelphia High School has undergone a transformation. It has been on Pennsylvania’s “Persistently Dangerous Schools” list for six years, but the implementation of restorative practices and strong leadership, headed by principal Saliyah Cruz, have made a huge difference. The culture and climate of the school have improved significantly, violent and serious incidents have plummeted, and rates of discipline procedures such as suspensions and expulsions have decreased dramatically.

“When I came here [in fall 2007],” said Cruz, “One of the first things I noticed was that there was not a great deal of respect between adults and students. There was a small group of students who were chronically involved in the discipline loop. So obviously the detentions and suspensions weren’t communicating a message that kids were receiving, because they were still repeating the same behavior. Adults were getting frustrated and no one was learning anything here.”

Since restorative practices implementation, said Cruz, “Students know that if there is an issue or a problem, they’ll have an opportunity to share, to have a stake in what happens next. In the classroom it’s really about getting to a state where we can all work. It’s not about: How much punishment can I heap onto this person? The more the kids understand that, the more they’re willing to own what’s happened to them.”

Cruz first learned about restorative practices in spring 2008 when Dr. Russell Gallagher, then the school’s assistant principal, received a mailing from the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) about a one-day conference on restorative practices and brought it to her attention. Intrigued, she sent to that conference Gallagher and several other staff members who represented two poles of the discipline spectrum: those who were “heavy-handed” and those who were “amazing in terms of talking things through with students.” Cruz figured if they could agree that restorative practices made sense, it might work for “West.” All of them returned thrilled about the prospects for restorative practices. The IIRP was contracted to begin training school staff in August 2008.

Read the full article.

To view the video The Transformation of West Philadelphia High School: A Story of Hope, please go to: www.iirp.org/westphilahigh.

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