The school to prison pipeline describes the process in which children, and especially children of color, are systematically pressured out of productive society and into the prison system.
As the ACLU reports, There is significant evidence that these children are not given the same opportunities as their largely caucasian peers.
Rather, they become marginalized by “zero tolerance” polices, now widely discredited by research. As LeMonde Diplome reports, These practices are still widespread in the United States and have been exported worldwide.
According to a report by Reclaiming Children and Youth, school failure and exclusion predict poor life outcomes and are implicated in the mass incarceration of boys and young men of color. Still, these are not insoluble problems as educators and policy makers are discovering effective strategies to engage instead of exclude these students.
Here are three steps that can be taken to eliminate the school to prison pipeline.
5. Bring in more social workers and mental health professionals
Mental health issues are more prevalent in low-income communities, Wisconsin Public Radio reports. As well, qualified professionals who can assist these kids are fewer and further between. This means that children who need these services the most often go unsupported.
When parents are working multiple jobs just to get by, and still lack affordable healthcare, valid issues often go unaddressed. And it’s not a teacher’s responsibility to identify mental health issues.
One of the best ways to ensure that children have a solid emotional foundation on which to learn is to make sure that their home lives are safe and secure. Skilled social workers and mental health professionals can get engaged with these students before and help them thrive.
4. Reduce classroom size
Teachers are expected to connect with their classrooms as they impart daily lessons. But this rarely happens in large classrooms. As Brookings reports, larger class sizes lead to children acting out in violent or asocial ways. Classroom size is one of the biggest contributors to the school to prison pipeline, as when students act out, they are often suspended or expelled.
In contrast, a reduced class size is directly correlated to improved outcomes for children.
3. End suspensions and arrests for minor misbehavior
“Zero tolerance” policies aimed at dissuading serious offenses also result in overly punitive measures for smaller infractions.
As Vox reports, “Zero-tolerance policies have been widely criticized when schools have interpreted “weapon” very broadly, expelling students for making guns with their fingers or chewing a Pop-Tart into a gun shape or bringing a camping fork for Cub Scouts to class.”
2. Practice restorative justice
Rather than “an eye for an eye,” restorative justice takes an additive approach, affirming that those involved are human, and responsible for their actions. It is then the perpetrator’s responsibility to restore the any injury to the victim.
In practice, this typically involves a conference between those involved in the conflict, a level field of communication that does not ignore the human cost of the offending action, the International Institute for Restorative Practices reports.
1. Engage educators, students, parents, and community advocates in intentional empathy
Opportunities for empathy lead to more positive results as children grow into adults. These lessons help children understand how to treat others with kindness and compassion, and further reduce the school to prison pipeline.
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