How We Designed our In-School Suspension System
In my last post I detailed the process that saw a number of us at Pen Hi arrive at wanting an alternative to the traditional method of sending a student home for a drug suspension. As stated, there were a number of reasons why we wanted to initiate a new system, and in this post I will describe the process we have implemented.
We had a number of goals in structuring our In-School Suspension (ISS) System, most of which surrounded the desire to remove the student from his/her normal social circle, while adding interventions designed to help him/her address the problem of drug use. Perhaps as the most important side-effect, wewanted to see the student return to class in a better position academically than when he/she had left.
With this in mind, we wanted…
- to find places in our building where the suspended student could work in ‘supported isolation’.
- to efficiently and effectively notify the student’s teachers of the suspension and collect work from them.
- to connect the student to adults in the building who could address the issue of drug use.
- to connect the student with academic supports that would last for the duration of the ISS and beyond.
We identified places in our building that could serve as appropriate locations to place ISS students. The obvious rooms to use were our Learning Assistance Centre (LAC) rooms, both of which had teachers on hand at all times who had experience in assisting at-risk students. It was nice to have the option between two of these rooms for a number of reasons:
- If the student had friends working in one room, we could select the other location.
- If one room was full or some other conflict arose, we could direct the student to the preferred environment.
- We could make strategic decisions as to which LAC instructor might be better matched to the student.
If both LAC rooms were unavailable or considered to be in contrast to our stated goals, other locations were also considered, if even for a temporary period. Some of these places included the counselling area, the front office waiting area, our conference room or a classroom.
One of our counsellors designed a table that came pre-loaded with information fields and a checklist for all appropriate information such as the date, student name, location of ISS, duration of ISS, etc. As well, the table was embedded in an email that was preloaded with all of the addresses for the counselling staff, administration, youth worker and front office staff. All the administrator issuing the suspension had to do was select ‘reply to all’ and add the emails of the classroom teachers of the student serving the ISS. Once this email was sent out, every adult in the building who needed to know about the ISS was informed. The table also indicated where the teacher could send work for the student to complete.
Drug and Alcohol Support
We have benefitted greatly from our association with Rob McGirr from the Surrey School District. Todd Manuel, one of the leaders of our ISS inquiry, had previously worked with Rob and knew about the fantastic work he did around drug use. The scope of Rob’s work in this area is too broad to share in this blog post, but in essence he directed us in three significant areas:
- He shared with us how to administer a drug self-assessment to a student found to be using drugs or alcohol.
- He has modeled for us the process of facilitating a group meeting of drug-impacted students.
- He has been able to address the most common concerns and general challenges in working with drug-impacted youth.
We have been using this model for over a year and personally I could not imagine going back to our previous system. While there are still isolated situations that call for us to send a student off-campus, we probably administer about 90% of our suspensions on an ISS format.
In talking with any of the adults that are a part of the ISS system, it is clear that all of us have recognized the increased connectedness with our most at-risk students. Following a 3-day in-school suspension, it is common to hear a staff member comment on how he/she has a clearer idea on the interests and character of the suspended student.
About a year ago we started writing down anecdotal comments from our ISS students and the staff members who worked with them. Many of these comments not only entrenched our existing views of the ISS system, but they highlighted benefits we had not considered before. Here is a sampling of a few of these comments:
- ‘This in-school suspension system sucks, but it works! I mean i got all caught up in my homework and I have never had that before.’ (male student, gr.9)
- ‘Man I am caught up! Seriously, I don’t know if you know how big a deal this is, but I am caught up on my homework and that hasn’t happened since…what…grade 6?’ (male student, grade 9)
From a staff member who worked in one of the LAC rooms:
It was a very positive experience, I think for both of us, in many ways. John* was able to get caught up on all of his homework. He worked very hard both days. It also provided a great opportunity for him and me to connect on a much stronger level. I hadn’t realized how very at risk he is before these two days as his marks and attendance are quite strong. He’s not one who would have stood out to me as needing a tremendous amount of support. Now, he stops and chats with me in the hallway about things like basketball, novels we’re reading, assignments he’s working on. Because of this ISS model, he has now made 4 significant, strong adult connections in the school: his counsellor, the youth worker, his vice principal, and his LAC teacher. If we had opted to send this boy home for his suspension instead, I think we would have risked beginning that push out the door when school is the one stable, positive force in his life.
* the student’s name has been changed to protect anonymity
We are into our second school year of developing and implementing an ISS system. It has been incredible to see the way in which we have transformed the manner in which we react to situations that traditionally have resulted in us ostracizing students. We are building stronger relationships, improving academic success and connecting with students least likely to be connected. Above all, personally I have dramatically reduced the number of times I have had to walk students to the door and say goodbye for a 3-5 days – especially at a time in which they can least afford it.