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Sunday, April 18, 2004

Suspension alone won't help some kids


Your voice: Adonica A. Jones-Parks

One of the responsibilities of an assistant principal is to administer discipline if a student violates the school or district code of conduct. Administrators make every attempt to deter misbehavior but are not always successful because children, like adults, make wrong choices.

Sometimes young people make a decision to fight in response to a conflict with another student. For most school districts, the code of conduct is clear: If a student fights, he or she is suspended. But is suspension, and only suspension, the answer?

When young people lack skills to deal with conflict, for many, their instinct is to resort to physical force. Their parents may have raised them this way, or they may have seen their parents use violence to "solve" a problem. Some teens are influenced by their peers so they won't be perceived as "soft" or "lame," while others are just angry, and getting physical releases it.

I am not a child psychologist or therapist, and I don't have to be either to recognize that parents and schools need to take a more proactive stance to combat students' use of violence. Suspension alone is not the answer.

Cincinnati Public Schools received community praise for initiating the Alternative to Expulsion Program this year. The A to E Program is designed to keep students from being expelled to the streets.

In the past, if a student was expelled, he or she would be out of school for up to 80 days and would subsequently fail. If the parent didn't seek counseling or intervention, there was always a chance the student's behavior and attitude weren't adjusted.

The A to E program allows students to take academic classes and meet with counselors to improve social skills and problem-solving ability.

The A to E Program is just one intervention strategy. Some schools have peer mediation and conflict resolution programs; all should have them. While there is no perfect solution to student violence, these strategies promote respectful communication among students, assist students with problem-solving, and allow students to seek alternate ways of dealing with conflict without use of force.

Adults must teach children, and it begins at home and continues at school. We must prepare our children to interact with others in a more positive manner, speak to their peers and adults with respect, confront an issue with a person without being confrontational, make better choices, and seek assistance from an adult before using physical force.

Young people are still developing, and it is the adults who must prepare them for the adult world, when fighting on the job or in street will land them in jail.

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Adonica A. Jones-Parks is a high school assistant principal with Cincinnati Public Schools and an adjunct instructor at Cincinnati State University. ---

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