More than three years ago, a group of Fresno youths launched an effort to remake the city's public education system. We knew that too many young people were dropping out of high school and we wanted to stop this epidemic.
This youth team called itself SUCCESS (Students United to Create a Climate of Engagement Support and Safety), and we did a tremendous amount of research over the past few years.
With support from The California Endowment's Building Healthy Communities initiative, organizations like The kNOw Youth Media and Youth Leadership Institute held focus groups with Fresno Unified students, parents and teachers to find out how they really feel about their schools.
The consensus -- Fresno Unified's discipline system needed some dramatic changes.
Our focus groups told us that Fresno Unified's current discipline practices and policies are unfair and inconsistent, impede healthy adult-student relationships and hinder academic achievement.
So SUCCESS set out on a mission to rally youth and adults --- particularly Superintendent Michael Hanson --- to bring restorative justice to Fresno Unified. Restorative justice is an alternative to the no-tolerance policies that use suspension and expulsion to discipline kids.
Instead, restorative justice uses forgiveness and mediation to repair the harm a student has caused, restore relationships between adults and kids in school, and teach young people how to avoid repeating their mistakes. It works in other school districts, and we know it could work in Fresno Unified.
We held conferences, met with the superintendent and talked to restorative justice experts across the state. We were convinced we had found a solution. When the Fresno Unified Graduation Task Force was put together, SUCCESS jumped at the opportunity to have a seat at the table and give students a voice in reforming our school district. We had a representative on the task force, rallied before a school board meeting and talked with the media. And it worked -- the task force recommendations call for introducing restorative justice in schools. Change is happening.
I just started my senior year at Edison High School, and many of these changes will come long after I'm gone. But I'm hopeful that Fresno Unified remains committed to restorative justice and that the efforts of SUCCESS help students for years to come. Young people need this change to have a better shot at graduating and going to college, and with their success, the whole city will have a brighter future.
Making It Right: Restorative justice
Miguel Bibanco is a member of the Youth Engagement Team, SUCCESS and The kNOw Youth Media.