Restorative Justice in Schools: Urban Essentials 101
Among the vast changes in California schools, one of the changes includes the need for restorative measures before suspension and expulsion can take place. In the California Department of Education’s Code 48900.5, it states that:
“A pupil, including an individual with exceptional needs, may be suspended for any of the reasons enumerated in Section 48900 upon a first offense, if the principal or superintendent of schools determines that the pupil violated subdivision (a), (b), (c), (d), or (e) of Section 48900 or that the pupil’s presence causes a danger to persons” (California Department of Education, Education Code, Section 48900.5).
The letters corresponding to the offenses include the following:
B-sold/furnished a knife or dangerous object
C-use/under influence or possession of drugs or alcohol
D-look alike substance (offered/tried to sell)
E-attempted to commit robbery or extortion
(California Department of Education, Education Code, Section 48900.5)
What does this information mean? It means that unless the student is deemed dangerous, he or she may not be excused or suspended on their first offense for minor infractions. The subdivisions above represent extreme cases resulting in suspension on the first offense yet other minor behaviors such as defiance, cursing, wayward behavior, etc., may not result in suspension. To a teacher, these minor offenses, if continual in the classroom, are often the major things which deter from teaching. If students continually feel that they can get away with such behavior, they will continue to do so until something is done to modify the behavior. When efforts to modify a student’s behavior fail, a teacher is left frustrated and powerless in certain cases.
Administrators must show documentation that other efforts have been made to change a student’s behavior. There must be evidence to present once students and administrators meet with their school districts for suspension or expulsion hearings. So where can this modification happen? Restorative Justice programs are one option. They have been purchased by many school districts in an effort to help teachers and students work through behavior issues with the hope that this modification will allow teachers to teach and students to learn.
One current program is called Urban Essentials 101: Unleashing the Academic Potential in Urban Underperforming Schools. Created by Mr. Julius Lockett, a former police officer and educator, his program is one of many programs seeking to help students modify their behavior in the classroom. Julius is adamant that his program will work in the schools if everyone is motivated to believe in the components of his program. These components include the posture or belief system of the school and the teacher-student mediation process.
Although there are various programs claiming that they are restorative in nature, there is only one that stands out and includes the terms, “restorative justice in school communities.” That program is Urban Essentials 101. UE101 is being adopted by various California schools in an effort to meet the requirements needed to restore relationships between students and educators. In an interview with Mr. Lockett, I learned that although Mr. Lockett is a very charismatic and persuasive presenter and educator, he, like many young men, struggled in the school system as a young man.
In high school, Mr. Lockett was involved in defiant activity including truancy and defiant behavior which eventually led him to juvenile hall. Growing up in the urban ghettos of Atlanta, Georgia, Julius quickly learned that life was dangerous and harsh. He knew he wasn’t a good student and with the negative influences surrounding him, this realization made it hard to see any hope in the future.
He credits three individuals to his change in behavior as a young man. These three men were his father, Reverend Julius L. Lockett, his science teacher, Mr. Charles Banks, and his basketball coach, Mr. Calvin Jones. It was Mr. Jones who helped him improve on his academic habits and behavior which eventually helped Julius get into college. In all three cases, it was the relationship or connection of a special individual which Julius needed in order to turn his behavior around. So it is no surprise that the program he created stems from the need for relationship building.
As explained by Julius, there are two different models or sources of restorative justice. The first model, a countermeasure to the criminal justice system, focuses on questions such as “What law was broken? Who was the criminal? What punishment was given?” In response to the CJ model, RJ (restorative justice) asks such questions as “What harm was done? What are the needs of the harmed that was done? What can we do to make this right?”
Lockett’s model is restorative justice in schools. It focuses on developmental stages rather than questions. These stages include the following:
- Gaining commitment – capturing the hearts and minds of those involved in the process.
- Developing a shared vision – understanding where teachers are going and why they are there in the program.
- Developing responsive and effective practices – how we think about the people involved and how we address the students in difficult situations.
- Developing a whole school approach – addressing different departments and bringing them together to unify in thoughts and approaches.
- Developing personal relationships – connecting with students and teachers, staff, community.
Whereas the first models focus on punishment rather than reform, the restorative justice in schools approach, Urban Essentials 101, focuses on the relationship of teacher to student and modifying behavior of the student.
In asking Julius why other restorative justice programs have failed, he explained that many restorative justice models are being brought into the school districts and do not include implementation experience or presenters who know or have worked in schools. Also, some of the programs do not include a designated room for defiant students when trying to modify behavior. In his program, the defiant student is pulled out of the classroom, thus allowing the teacher to continue teaching to the remainder of the students. Some of the other restorative justice programs have not been successful, because they set a program in place that is centered on punishment of the student and does not serve as a whole-school relationship builder between teacher and student. In essence, the school change and mentoring aspect between teacher and student is the driving force for the program. This is where Urban Essentials 101 fits into the schools.
With a background in law enforcement and education, Julius designed a program that understands both the justice aspect of society and its issues along with the educational and relational aspect of school environments. The Urban Essentials 101 program includes a schoolwide posture, which is basically an acronym representing traits which the school wishes to follow such as FAITH or PRIDE as possible examples. All students and teachers learn the posture and are reminded of the traits throughout the school community. Another aspect of the program includes the teacher-student mediation process in which the defiant student must complete a form stating what happened from the student’s perspective. The student is sent out to an in-school suspension room for the teaching period. At a convenient time, the student must return later to the teacher, and together, the teacher and student write an agreement about improving the behavior or situation which occurred (Lockett).
Is the program full proof? Not completely. Of course, there are setbacks that come along with any new program implemented into the schools. The buy-in from teachers is one of the main setbacks which Julius has seen in implementing such a program. Some seasoned teachers, who have seen so many implementations come and go, sometimes do not wish to alter their form of discipline with their students. To them, a referral or citation equals power over the student. Another setback is sustainability. Even if a school can implement the program, it takes time for any new implementation to become normalized. The longevity of a new program is always difficult to measure at any given time depending on the culture of the school and its teachers, students, and staff. Like Julius has stated, it means nearly everyone must be on board for his program to succeed, and many times, this is not the case.
Another setback is also the student’s attitude in this program. Some students, despite all efforts, may choose to follow their continued pattern of behavior, thus leading them into the path of suspension and expulsion. However, even in these cases, the program is designed to show the efforts of teachers and administrators and the various measures that have been taken to help the student curb their unruly behavior. Therefore, the last measures taken against these students include suspension or expulsion, in extreme cases.
Have there been triumphs? Yes, there have been several triumphs. Since implementing his program in various schools which include Merced Union High School District, Keller Leadership Academy (San Diego), Hiram Johnson High School (Sacramento) and Discovery High School (Natomas) just to name a few, there has been dramatic improvement in teacher-student relationships in the learning communities. Student achievement has also increased since students want to remain in classrooms where they feel valued and connected to the teacher. The biggest triumph which Julius notes is the decrease in suspensions. 40% reduction in suspensions has been seen in schools where the program has been implemented. Although there may always be unruly children despite the efforts made by educators, Urban Essentials 101 makes a conscious effort at establishing a connective bond between teacher and student so that students are taught, mentored, and counseled. Students learn how to behave in situations where they might not have otherwise known how to act or change.
As a teacher at one of the Urban Essentials 101 trainings, I was intrigued by Julius in the way he immediately connected to his audience. Somehow, he found a way to change many of our stubborn mindsets about mentoring, (or as he put it “Disciple-ing”), children by sharing his personal experiences, setbacks, and triumphs. It is evident that his experience in law enforcement and education along with his spiritual connection to God has allowed him to change the way many teachers see education and discipline.
In closing, it is evident that as we look at the world with its current issues of hatred, terrorism, and violence, our children may be the next generation requiring extended counsel with issues they face in their homes, relationships, and community. And although it has never been the place, our schools may once again play a part in counseling these students in addressing difficult behaviors and situations that otherwise would have been taught in the home. Although restorative justice in schools may not be the complete answer to discipline, at least Urban Essentials 101 is a starting point for teacher and student to unify, discuss, and peacefully resolve issues in a classroom.
Mr. Julius Lockett attended college at Georgia State University, earning a BS and MS in Public and Urban Affairs. He has also served as a police officer in Fulton County, Georgia. In 1996, he took a position at VORP, (Victim Offender Reconciliation Program), an affiliation of Fresno Pacific College, under the founder, Ron Claassen. While working at VORP, he earned teaching credentials in Physical Education and Social Science from Fresno Pacific College. He later earned an Administrative credential from the University of San Diego, California. He has served in California schools as both a teacher and administrator in the San Diego, Sacramento, and Merced areas for twenty years. Currently, he serves as a Program Administrator and Facilitator for Urban Essentials 101, Inc.