Best Start for Kids Helping Schools Shift to a Restorative Mindset

When a young person acts out or misbehaves, how should we respond? Detention and suspension have been the norm in our schools for decades, but this ends up alienating the students who need our help most, setting them up for failure and perpetuating the idea that society is “out to get them.” And too often teachers are unequipped to understand or address the underlying causes of the student’s behavior.

This week, Best Start for Kids announced the 98 awardees of micro-grants (less than $10,000) that give school districts and youth-based organizations across King County the opportunity to train their staff and implement trauma-informed restorative practices. Ten organizations that serve Council district 4 received these funds:

Art with Heart

Childhaven

City Year Seattle/King County

Na’ah Illahee Fund

Refugee Women’s Alliance

Treehouse

Washington Autism Alliance & Advocacy

Washington State Charter Schools Association

Wellspring Family Services

These organizations serve refugee, Native American, foster, autistic, and homeless children, among other communities.

Trauma-informed and restorative practices are a set of tools that help adults listen to and embrace troubled students instead of pushing them to the side. Hosting restorative circles, teaching skills for students to self-regulate their behavior, and creating stable, supportive relationships with adults are some of the ways these organizations are working to help build students’ capacity to overcome experiences of trauma or adversity.

Trauma, stress, and other adverse childhood experiences have a huge influence on children’s psychological and physical health. Abuse, neglect, and witnessing violence in one’s family or community are all common causes that lead to difficulty focusing on school or regulating one’s behavior. Seemingly small triggers can send children into survival mode and out of learning mode. Moving from a punitive to a restorative mindset is critical to show traumatized students that school can be positive and is somewhere they belong.

There has been an increase in awareness around these practices over the last ten years or so, but for many organizations, the training and resources are still unavailable. Things as simple as compensating teachers who attend trainings outside of work hours, providing dinner at a curriculum night, or even buying stress balls and other self-soothing tools to help students relax can make a big difference. Providing these supplementary resources is a key part of Best Start for Kids’ efforts to reduce inequality and increase opportunity for all children.

Next year, another round of larger grants will be awarded. Please contact my office if your organization is interested in applying and I will send you more information when it becomes available.

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