Students excel when they feel both welcomed and supported. At Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA), we believe that quality schooling is dependent upon quality relationships with students and families. This philosophy creates a space to better serve our community in a socially just way.
That’s why CNCA created and sustained an educational model that uses the per-pupil funding that we receive from the state to support strategic resources like full-time mental health practitioners and professional development for teachers and administrators on trauma-sensitive instruction. We also conduct home visits and teach ethnic studies as part of the curriculum to both affirm our relationships with students and to assist them in navigating life circumstances. We’ve found that these types of school climate investments help our students redirect energy to learning and it shows in their academic performance.
For example, the CNCA Cisneros Campus enrolls a high percentage of students living in transitional housing and foster youth. The lives of these students are challenging, at best, and these challenges can sometimes present themselves within the school environment. When challenges arise that might harm the learning community, we begin a restorative justice process by understanding what happened, who was affected, and how we might resolve the situation in a non-punitive manner.
We confer with those involved individually before the larger community of students, families, and school staff are convened in a “healing circle”. The healing circle provides the group a space to share how they were affected and to collectively decide how to respond to the incident. Healing and justice emerge from this community – fully supported and facilitated by our staff.
When reflecting about the restorative justice approach at Cisneros, one parent shared, “I’m thankful that my child had an opportunity to go through this process. We all make mistakes in life and, although this was a really big one, this experience helped my son.”
Between 2012 and 2016, the Cisneros student suspension rate decreased from 5.3 percent to 1.4 percent as we moved away from punitive responses to student behavior and toward restorative interventions.
Supportive school environments understand the difficulty students and educators face when trying to separate that which occurs within the school from the stressors and uncertainties that envelope their lives when school is not in session. The use of restorative justice practices and other supports has been integral to CNCA’s ability to create a high-quality school environment that provides both students and teachers the conditions they need to thrive. It is through these conditions of mutual trust and respect that CNCA creates a space that allows for deeper levels of teaching and learning.
Randell Erving is Camino Nuevo Charter Academy’ School Culture Specialist.