Amyri Jackson is over halfway done with his time at the Metro Opportunity campus, and he’s learning how to use the reset room to calm down.
The eighth-grader is one of about 400 students who will use the alternative school program Fort Worth ISD has developed with a goal of transforming discipline.
The Big Thought nonprofit, which is in its second year of working with Fort Worth ISD, is an alternative school campus serving students in sixth-12th grade, said Rashad Bea, the program’s director. The campus is called Metro Opportunity School at 2801 Patino Road in Fort Worth.
The program gives students more resources, support and autonomy in addressing discipline, Beal said. The goal is to decrease repeat discipline referrals.
The partnership tries to balance keeping students on track academically, understanding the consequences for their behavior and giving students voice and ownership over their actions, said Michael Steinert, assistant superintendent of student support services. The partnership hopes to decrease repeat offenses.
Big Thought does this with various tools like integrating art classes with the regular lessons, Beal said. The campus also has reset rooms, where students can use techniques to calm down before talking about issues that led to the outburst.
The Big Thought team works with students to build personal learning plans and builds students up, he said. The staff encourages students to reflect on questions like what value they bring to the community and how to express creativity.
“Students are building something while they’re here,” Beal said. “They’re not just here biding their time until they go back to their school. The main reason being that we want to make sure that we are reducing recidivism and building the skills of students so that when they go back to their home campus, they’re not making the same mistakes as they did when they arrived to us.”
The number of students on the campus varies, sometimes with as many as 130 students in the program, Steinert said. The length of time students are in alternative school ranges from as short as 15 days to as long as 60.
Students can head to alternative school for various issues, Steinert said, like fighting or minor drug infractions such as vape pens. The staff looks at several factors like homelessness or mental illness around the incident before sending students, typically as a last resort, to the Metro Opportunity Campus.
The average amount of time a student spends in alternative school is typically 30 days. Amyri is in the program for 30 days before he goes back to Forest Oak Middle School.
He’s learning his usual lessons — like math and history — but is also learning more about himself through the questions staff asks him to reflect upon, he said.
Big Thought programming helps students understand that they made a mistake, but they won’t be judged for that mistake. While the students aren’t judged, they are expected to develop skills through the program so they don’t make the same mistakes, Beal said.
“Because a lot of times we have students who are just wondering, ‘Why is it that I always get in trouble?’ Or, they feel like maybe somebody from the campus has it out for them,” Beal said. “So, we want to work on accountability as well, to help them understand, ‘Hey, it was a mistake that you made, but we also need you to step up and say, I made that mistake.’”
The partnership and commitment to new disciplines practices has required a lot of learning, Steinert said.
“These kids come with really complex pasts and they’ve dealt with a lot of stuff in their life by the time they come to us here,” he said. “So taking the time to help them unpack that stuff and figure out which things we can help them with and get, not only them but their families, resources, and do all that in a way that we can transition it back to the home school is super important work.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com. 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.