God’s Unexpected Open Door

One day in August 2013, my husband, Rick, came home from work and said, “A Modesto City School’s (MCS) director called today. They want Youth for Christ Central Valley to train their staff on the school-to-prison pipeline and restorative justice (RJ). You and Marty are perfect. Can you meet with them?”

VORP. My colleague, Marty Villa, is a veteran staff counselor with over 40 years with Youth for Christ. One of his roles is work with the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP). Upon discussion, he has no idea what MCS wants us to train on for schools. RJ is usually associated with the courts.

Dissertation. I’m just as clueless. My background in Restorative Justice stems from my dissertation on trying juveniles as adults. I learned that the best way to keep juveniles from being tried as adults is if they never go to court in the first place.

When a first time juvenile offender commits a non-violent crime, instead of sending the offender to juvenile hall, a court officer works with both the offender and the victim. The juvenile is held accountable to restore or make right the harm done to the victim(s).

Meeting with Administrators. Marty and I meet with two District Office administrators to find out more. One administrator explains, “We’ve implemented the Federal zero tolerance policies. But what schools districts all over the U.S. are finding is the unintentional results of these policies.”

He continues, “When we suspend students, they spend time at home, often unsupervised. They often get into more trouble with other unsupervised students. When the students return to school the negative behaviors continue because most punishment doesn’t change behavior. Before long, the students’ behavior escalates which results in further suspensions.”

School-to-Prison Pipeline. The other administrator adds, “This repetitive cycle results in what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. The more school students miss, the further behind they get, often resulting in dropping out of school, getting into trouble with the law, resulting in incarceration. What kind of training can you provide to fix this?”

“Let me summarize,” I say. “You want us to fix the escalating number of suspensions and keep kids in school so they can graduate?” No small order, I think to myself.

Students of Color. “That’s about it. We forgot to mention racial disproportionality. That basically means that the District suspends more students of color at a higher rate than white students. We need to address that too.”

The District will assign us five schools with the highest suspension rates. They want us to offer trainings over time so staff can assimilate new knowledge and apply what they’re learning with students. They also request training that is highly practical and interactive.

Creating Curriculum. Lucky for the District, Youth for Christ, and me, creating curriculum is my favorite part of teaching. Having developed over 25 high school and college courses, this is the perfect assignment for me. I can work from home at my own pace. I’ll research the topic, and then create a training program using multi-modalities that meets their needs.

But it isn’t luck. It’s God’s unexpected open door. This is my third year on disability and I’m thankful and blessed with the opportunity to use some of my favorite skills. Marty and I leave the meeting with lots of ideas and countless possibilities.

Hope Appears. But something else happens as I leave the meeting. I’m filled with new found hope. It appears that God is going to use my talents and time for something I never even knew existed: Restorative Practices in Schools.

Graphic source: academicsurplus.com

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