BEYOND FREDDIE GRAY
“Small things at a very young age can be so impactful on a student’s academic performance and once you get on a path of being labeled a bad kid it is just an incredible snowball effect,” says Toby Guerin '02, clinical law instructor and managing director of the Center for Dispute Resolution at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law (C-DRUM).
The correlation between trouble in school and involvement in the juvenile justice system, also termed the “school-to-prison” pipeline, is one of the topics covered by Professors Deborah Eisenberg, Susan Leviton, and Toby Guerin during Maryland Carey Law’s new course “Freddie Gray’s Baltimore: Past Present & Moving Forward.”
The eight week course divided up the many issues facing Baltimore, from access to healthcare to domestic violence. Joined by Kate Rabb, education policy director of Advocates for Children and Youth, the C-DRUM team raised awareness of education issues faced by most Baltimore youth.
After hearing about the history of case law and legislation in the education system, the students explored many of the conditions existing in Baltimore schools during the time period of Freddie Gray’s education such as failing school infrastructure, overreliance on suspensions and expulsions, and high rates of teacher and administration turn over. The class highlighted the high poverty concentration which exists in Baltimore and the correlation between quality education and income. Through a case study, the students examined the role of police in schools, the complex web of interests when trying to address issues of discipline, and the role of advocates in effectuating school reform.
The course launched during the fall of 2015 at the law school and will be repeated again during the spring semester at both Maryland Carey Law and the University of Maryland at College Park.
Outside of the classroom, C-DRUM and the Mediation Clinic continue their work with Callaway Elementary School in Baltimore, supporting a school-wide approach to restorative practices. In the first year of the partnership, Callaway Elementary experienced a 75% decrease in suspensions. This trend of low suspensions has continued into the 2015-2016 academic year.
Restorative practices provide effective tools to counter “zero tolerance” discipline policies by building relationships and promoting positive communication. These interventions encourage more positive behavioral choices in the future and can reduce classroom disruptions and increase learning for all students. When disruptions are handled restoratively, relationships are also strengthened between students and teachers, ultimately supporting improved student learning.
All staff at Callaway Elementary attended a summer restorative practices training. Once the school year began, Mediation Clinic students provided mediation for peer conflicts and attendance mediation for students in danger of chronic absenteeism.
GIVING A VOICE TO YOUTH
C-DRUM staff Barbara Grochal and Fellow Jason Rubinstein ’15 collaborated with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Community Relations Service SPIRIT Program to bring a voice the students of Renaissance Academy High School in Baltimore in December, 2015.
The SPIRIT Program “is designed to assist school administrators in gathering insight into student perceptions of social problems impacting their school and/or community and developing action-based solutions.” The program uses facilitators to provide students the opportunity to voice their concerns about issues impacting their school and community. During the morning session, the students identified positive aspects of their school and the challenges they face. In the afternoon, students brainstormed possible solutions to address the identified issues.
The day ended with student presentations and a discussion of their solutions with their peers and academic staff.
“The one thing that I found so remarkable about the students was how much gratitude they expressed to the volunteer facilitators and organizers that came to listen to their issues and ideas for addressing them,” said Charles Philips, a conciliation specialist from the DOJ.
“So many came forward in presentations implying that they had little exposure or evidence to suggest that those beyond their immediate geography cared about the issues they faced. I think facilitators and the program went a long way toward showing them a more positive perspective.”
Ongoing conversations between the high school administration, DOJ, and C-DRUM are taking place. The students’ engagement in working to improve their school through collaborative problem solving underpins the value and importance of incorporating facilitated youth dialogue in the academic setting.
C-DRUM’s work in education mirrors its overall mission to promote the effective resolution of conflict to empower and transform. Through teaching, service, and facilitation, C-DRUM continues to address the many challenges contributing to Baltimore’s education gap.