Virtual program helps educators provide safe classes and keep students in school

0 Comment Wayne.Steffen
August 1, 2014

A proven method of keeping kids in class and learning all the way to graduation is going virtual, thanks to Fresno Pacific University and the Fresno Regional Foundation.

Discipline That Restores (DTR) decreases the need for suspensions and expulsions by replacing punitive discipline with a system that keeps students accountable to one another and to their teachers for their behavior. DTR was developed by Ron Claassen, D. Min., Fresno Pacific University emeritus professor of peacemaking and conflict studies, and his wife, Roxanne, who has an M.A. in peacemaking and conflict studies and has served as an adjunct faculty at FPU as well as a career public school teacher. 

The Bennett Family Foundation Fund, a donor-advised fund within the Fresno Regional Foundation, gave FPU a one-year, $150,000 grant to develop an online version of the Claassen curriculum through the FPU Office of Continuing Education. Entire school districts can benefit, according to Matt Gehrett, Ed.D., executive director of online and continuing education. Over the summer Central Unified School District in Fresno County and Armona Union Elementary School District in Kings County showed interest in the program, and Gehrett has been in contact with others.

“We’re hoping a year from now to have contracts with multiple districts, each with multi-year contracts,” Gehrett said. “The grand vision is that somewhere like Dallas (Texas) schools would call and say, How can you help us? And we could do it from here.”

DTR provides a progressive structure for school discipline ranging from prevention and early intervention strategies, to structured mediated conferences and decisions by principals and vice principals if necessary, all using the principles of restorative justice. In punitive discipline an offense is considered a violation of the rules and punishment is handed down according to a system. Restorative discipline, on the other hand, treats an offense as being against a person or group of people, and brings together everyone affected—students, teachers, parents, etc.—to work out an agreement to make things right and go forward constructively. Follow-up meetings monitor implementation and celebrate the keeping of the agreements.

There is great potential in DTR, according to Charise Hansen, program officer at the Fresno Regional Foundation. “The donor has been a long-time supporter of the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP),” she said. “It was easy to recommend this opportunity following the successes of mediation programs in Fresno County. I’ve seen first-hand how mediation programs work and appreciate the common sense approach. Moreover, DTR can influence healthy communication and discipline that has the potential to carry over from schools into homes.”

Punitive discipline in schools often means suspending or expelling students who cause problems. But the California Legislature has determined these tactics are not effective and required schools to find alternatives like restorative discipline. Between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 expulsions statewide dropped by 12.3 percent, from 9,758 to 8,562, and suspensions decreased 14.1 percent, from 709,596 to 609,471, according to the California Department of Education. Benefits were seen across ethnic groups, with the largest declines coming in the category of “student defiance”: 23.8 percent fewer suspensions and 18.6 percent fewer expulsions.

Ron and Roxanne Claassen have traveled the world giving presentations on restorative justice and Discipline That Restores for decades. A former math teacher, Ron co-founded of the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program of the Central Valley and the Center for Peacemaking & Conflict Studies at FPU. The theory and practices of DTR were forged in Roxanne’s eighth-grade classes at Raisin City Elementary School (Located in rural Fresno County, the school’s multiethnic student population comes from low-income homes. Most adults work in the surrounding fields and all students are on the free breakfast and lunch program.) and articulated in the couple’s 2008 book,Discipline That Restores: Strategies to Create Respect, Cooperation, and Responsibility in the Classroom.

Typically in their live workshops the Claassens reach 30-40 teachers at a time. “When you work with a school district the chances of getting all the teachers into a four-day training is highly unlikely,” Ron Claassen said. “Then the question is, how does the school district train all people at their school sites?”

The DTR program will be a series of four online courses, each consisting of video instruction from the Claassens, assignments and supplementary materials, also online, developed by the FPU continuing education staff in consultation with the Claassens. Follow-up coaching through videoconferencing will also be available to participants for a period of years.

Between the growing interest in alternative discipline, the Claassens’ expertise in the area and the reach of virtual education, Gehrett sees no limits to the program’s potential. “We could have hundreds of teachers overnight. This is the 21st century way to implement things,” he said.

See more about DTR at fresno.leadpages.net/dtr

Fresno Regional Foundation at fresnoregfoundation.org/

About the author

Wayne Steffen is university editor at Fresno Pacific University, where he edits Pacific magazine. Before joining FPU in 1996, he was a writer and editor at several community newspapers and a college in the Midwest.

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