Schools in New Orleans are looking for alternatives to suspension. At some schools, that alternative is called restorative practices — students and teachers sit down together, talk it out, and come up with a plan to prevent future conflicts. Cornelius Dukes runs restorative practices at Abramson Sci Academy.
He’s helped many students work through conflict, including Abramson Sci Senior Walter Bell. Dukes has mentored Walter since the fifth grade. WWNO's Jess Clark spoke with Dukes and Walter about Walter's growth, and why Dukes believes restorative practices are needed in New Orleans schools.
The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
DUKES: Why do this instead of suspension? Quite frankly, I’m tired of going to funerals. I’ve been here going on six years, and I’ve buried a student every single year. And so what I realize is that they just don’t have the tools to resolve conflict.
WALTER: My name is Walter Bell. I’m a senior at Abramson Sci academy.
DUKES: Walter is a student that has moved with me to whatever school that I’m at. He’s a teenage boy. He’s on the football team, and he lifts weights and the testosterone is just flowing. And so he is a student that would never have backed down from anyone — not searching for problems, but it if comes to him, there will be a problem — to now having a totally different perspective on conflict now.
There was a situation where a fight occurred that he didn’t necessarily start, and it was multiple people. When he came down to my office he was ready to mediate.
WALTER: When you go through mediation first you put all your problems on the table, so it’s like no sugar coating. You sit in the room, you sit in a meeting with the person you had a problem with, or with the teacher. Really it’s just a teaching process. They just teach you how to deal with something different, and they ask you why do you feel like what you did was right, and what were you thinking in the moment and what you could have did different. They taught me how to handle my stress when I came to school, and that made it easier for me when it happened the next time to not get in trouble and hold myself back.
DUKES: It’s no secret the climate of our city. There are a lot of conflicts that occur not in this building right? And occur outside the school. And so what would happen if we suspend the student for fighting? 'OK both you guys — you’re suspended.' They're able to go home, and now were going to meet up, and we’re gonna fight and we’re gonna get other people involved in the conflict as well. And so a simple conflict can turn very deadly for our students her in New Orleans. So if I’m equipping students with how to resolve conflict here in this building they can take those same tools and use them outside of this building.
DUKES: Walter’s growth is that he realizes that there are bigger things than him getting into a conflict with this person. Not only does he look to himself, he looks to the other student to try to resolve it.
WALTER: If I do something negative right now, it's going to hold me back in the future. So you can’t act off of your emotions all the time. So if I’m having a bad day, I make a bad run-in with a teacher, now I feel like I’m breaking that trust between me and the teacher — somebody who’s helping me get out of high school, somebody that’s helping me prepare for college.
DUKES: I’ve seen him in situations where I, as a 17-year-old male, I didn’t have that in me to walk away or to resolve that. Me as a man now, I have those patience and I understand it to where I can do that. But it’s very impressive to see a 17-year-old male avoid things that come his way.
WALTER: I want to be great. Period. I feel like if I react off a situation, that’s one step back while I’m on the road to greatness.
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