LEWISTON — His head was on the desk, his arms around his head. The high-schooler was sleeping out a detention at Lewiston High School.
“I was tardy,” he said when asked why he was there. If students are late too many times in a quarter “you get detention,” he said. About 12 other students in that same detention slept or worked.
A group of Lewiston High School students are calling for new types of discipline that may make this common school scene rare. They want to see less detention, more conversation.
“You get detention. You serve it. That’s it. Kids don’t learn anything from it,” said Hodan Musse, 17, a junior.
She and other members of the 21st Century Leaders Program have been studying restorative justice practices.
Restorative practices, a growing trend, involves finding ways to have students learn from their mistakes in school rather than just receive punishment.
“My sophomore year I got kicked out of math class,” said junior Fardowsa Aden, a member of the 21st Century group. “I was defending my friend. Some white kid was cursing at her in Somali.”
She said she told the teacher the boy was cursing at her friend in Somali.
“The teacher said, ‘No he’s not. He doesn’t know Somali.’ I said, ‘He knows the bad words.’”
After arguing with her teacher, “she kicked me out of class,” Aden said. In detention hall, “I just sat there. I did nothing.”
Hafido Awil said she was sent to detention after she acted out because she was harassed by another student.
“A guy was calling me names in the hallway. I was trying to walk away,” Awil said. “He kept calling me names. I got mad.” She dumped coffee on him.
“They called me down to the office and asked why I spilled coffee on him. I said, ‘He threw a juice box at me and called me names.’”
Both got in trouble and sent to detention. “It didn’t teach me anything,” Awil said.
What would be better, 21st Century students said, would be some conversations to find out why she threw coffee at another student, or to bring together the white and black students to talk about swearing during class.
“If the teacher had heard my side of the story and listened, it would be better. Have a dialogue so you don’t do it again,” Aden said.
Later this month, the 21st Century students working with director Jenn Carter will conduct a survey asking students for input on the school climate and discipline practices.
The results will be compiled, then specific discipline changes will be proposed to administration.
Lewiston High School teacher Samantha Garnett Sias, president of the Lewiston teachers union, said schools must have rules and consequences for student behavior in order to maintain student learning and safety.
Detention is punitive to deter students from violating the rules, she said. Detention can be avoided, she added, by students following rules.
Principal Shawn Chabot said the high school “is still pretty traditional here. But we can always look at our practices and see what’s working, what’s not working.”
That doesn’t mean changes will happen, that detention will go away, Chabot said, “but we will be open minded.”
Next year the new LHS principal will be Jake Langlais, who is implementing restorative practices at the Lewiston Middle School, where he now is principal.
Restorative justice is a growing trend “because people are increasingly aware of the need for paying attention to students feeling they’re a part of the school community,” said Ryun Anderson, acting executive director of Restorative Justices Institute of Maine.
The more that students are punished, the more disengaged they can become, Anderson said. The hope is that by employing restorative practices, educators hold students accountable but also provide support and affirmation that “students are a valued part of the school.” If the practices are done in a school consistently, classroom disruptions and trips to the office decrease, she said. “The payoff is huge.”
Edward Little Principal Scott Annear said his school is using more restorative practices.
Detention and suspensions are still used, but are no longer automatic. When a student is late five times or disruptive in class, it doesn’t go unaddressed, Annear said. But what happens next is decided case by case.
Conversations are held with students, maybe their parents, to learn what’s going on, Annear said. The goal is for the student to take accountability “and own it, talk to the person who was offended.”
Discipline could involve detention, suspension, apologizing to the person they offended or community service.
If a student made a mess or did property damage in the cafeteria, they may have to do cleanup work or make repairs.
Detention alone does little, Annear said. “I could give a student a million detentions, but what does that do?”