In the 2021-22 school year, the Leadership Academy at Forest Oak Middle School had one of its best academic years. But it also had one of its worst years for discipline referrals with some of the highest numbers filed.
This year, the campus has put changes in place that have already decreased discipline referrals by 36%, according to the campus assistant principal, using techniques that help the whole student and a “reset room,” a space for students to decompress and regulate emotions before moving forward.
Students will receive writeups to the principal’s office for behavior issues, but it is used in conjunction with the room and other tactics.
“No one is coming to save you, so how can you save yourself? What can we do as a campus to try to create an initiative to change the mind frame of the students and the teachers on the campus?,” Assistant Principal Lea Anne Roach said. “That’s really kind of what prompted everything.”
Roach started trying to think outside of the box, she said. This led to her trying to find solutions to what the school can do to help alleviate outside influences that are affecting the classroom.
One solution was blocking social media at school. The technology department was able to block social media access on the campus, executive director of academics at the Leadership Academy Network Whitney Clark said. That was a direct solution to a problem that was causing fights among the students, she said.
Typically, an administrator is the first call when there is an incident with a student, but Forest Oak has a Student Support Team made up of counselors, social workers, behavior specialists and other professionals to come in and assess the situation to choose the best response, Roach said.
“A lot of times, it’s just a change of environment. That’s one of the reasons the room is so crucial,” Roach said. “A lot of times, they just need to talk it out. A lot of times we need conflict resolution. So, we try to use outside-the-box things other than just suspending your kid or sending them to in-school suspension. Can we have a conversation? Can we work through a skill set or something to try to improve that relationship?”
The reset room is a tool the campus utilizes when students need a behavior adjustment. Located in a portable building across from the main campus, the room is full of sensory and other coping tools for students.
The room has a sports side with a foosball table, basketball hoop attached to the wall, small pool table and a boxing area with a bag and dummy. These tools help students work out physical energy.
The room also is equipped with weighted blankets, large chairs and fidgets, which Roach said can all be comforting. Students also can use journals and a hot chocolate/tea station.
The school has no expectations on how conversations happen in the room, Roach said. Students are told they are there to have a conversation about what’s going on. The room helps the students regulate and get comfortable enough to talk in the space.
From there, a behavior plan is put in place. Sometimes, those plans include resources that help resolve an outside issue that is bringing anger into the classroom, Roach said.
The staff is intentional in keeping an environment in the school that lets kids be kids, Roach said.
“Sometimes a kid needs a license to be told — especially with the world that we live in — that it’s OK to be 12 years old, and it’s OK to be a kid here,” she said. “So, if we start having those conversations, that the burden that you carry when you came in here this morning, that’s not yours. Your job is to focus on school and to be here and to be safe and to be loved. And that’s going to be the environment that we’re going to provide to you.”
Typically, people might pull students into a separate room when they are causing a disruption, Roach said. This might not be the answer for every student. The reset room lets them have time to self-regulate and calm down.
The campus wants to move away from the traditional model of calling parents and suspending students, Roach said. They want to lower the suspension rate by providing ways to correct behavior long term.
Principal Steven Moore thinks the balanced approach is what makes how the campus handles discipline most effective.
“Everything isn’t rainbows and there’s still an accountability aspect that we hold kids to, but it looks different,” Moore said. “Love looks different and love is holding students accountable to their behavior and their actions to help support them in thinking about what they do before they actually do it.”
Clark said they want to redefine punitive consequences. If students are just sent to suspension for an outburst, they don’t know to prevent that in the future. They have to learn how to manage their emotions to prevent recurring incidents.
When a certain behavior becomes a problem, Clark said the student support team works with the student to help them get to the root of the problem and learn how to cope.
The accountability side of the discipline comes with the emotional work the students do. Students who misbehave and need the reset room still have to meet with an administrator to discuss consequences that could include detention, suspension or a conference with a parent, Moore said.
“If we issue a consequence without getting to the root cause, without getting the kid at a level where they can accept the consequence, and evaluate their actions that led to the consequence, if we don’t ever get them there, what good have we done? We’re not servicing the whole child,” he said. “That’s when it’s just punitive. And I promise you they’re going to repeat it as soon as they get back here.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.