‘We’ve got to teach kids’: Butler County district tries new approach to student discipline

Discipline at Talawanda Middle School has taken on a new look this year with classes addressing the specific offenses instead of suspensions which are only time out of school which puts students behind and teachers working to help them catch up.

Using articles for the student to read and videos to watch, the classes are focused on the specific discipline issue and followed up by a face-to-face discussion with a staff member to assess how much the student learned from the experience.

Principal Mike Malone said they started the school year with eight classes prepared but as needs arose, they created more so that there are now 16 available and more likely to come.

The idea had its start when staff was looking at differences in discipline for special education students and the general student population. Malone said the special ed requirements created an uneven situation in regard to discipline and the idea of using these classes instead of out-of-school suspensions was born.

“We’ve got to teach kids. If they smoke in the bathroom, they would have three days to just go home and smoke again,” Malone said, adding the follow-up indicates how much the student has gotten from the experience. “The most effective thing after the class is to ask questions. Middle school is a world of conflict.”

The school year started with five students in the program at the same time, but Assistant Principal Stephanie Aerni said the program has been a success, at least so far.

“None of the students has repeated a course. They might have had to take a different one, such as vaping and respect, but we know we will have to look at it, if we have a second-level,” she said.

Malone said students seem to be taking the experience seriously and learning from it. He tells of a girl who told him she did not see any value to the program after reading the required article the first time but she told him she “learned stuff the second time she read the article.”

“We are making every effort to keep kids in school,” Malone said. “There are nothing but positives, a real plus.”

Tobacco/vaping and conflict resolution are two of the classes which are getting heavy use, but they have also prepared sessions on respect, bus conduct, inappropriate language, bullying, damaging property and social media, among others.

“A big one now is academic honesty as they try to deal with things,” Malone said. “It’s hard for us to find appropriate articles and video but they are tailored to each incident. They are taking the time to read through and get something out of it.”

Malone made a presentation to the board of education at the November meeting and described it as a program to keep kids in school and let them know their behavior was not acceptable.

“I was nervous students would not take it seriously, but they do,” he told the board in his presentation.

Also on hand for that presentation was Amy Macechko, the district’s health and wellness coordinator.

“It is wonderful to be part of the process,” she said. “I am impressed with the attitude of the students and how seriously they take it. It is a wonderful asset for our middle school students. Self-regulation is so absolutely critical.”

Malone said in a later interview that is a crucial aspect of this program. He sees it as another tool in teaching middle school students to navigate through life, not just a school day.

Citing just one of the 16 classes they have created, the one for conflict resolution, the principal showed the lesson is in five steps where the student responds to prompts answering questions about the steps and then some at the end, extending the lesson out to the future.

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