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Hamilton sees decrease in suspensions for 2018-2019 school year

As times and students evolve, so does Tulsa Public Schools and its practices. One way we are working to evolve is by encouraging our students' development of their social and emotional learning.

We believe that with strong social and emotional skills, our students will be able to set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

For Hamilton Elementary, one practice that helps us develop these social and emotional skills is by taking a different approach when it comes to suspensions. In fact, Hamilton Elementary hasn't had any suspensions for the 2018-2019 school year!

Counselor Kimberly Clark said Hamilton has worked hard to build a culture where its teachers aren't just dismissing students from class, they are working to better understand their students, inside and outside of the classroom.

"We know that the students come from outside situations in their everyday life. We are very mindful of what the students are experiencing outside of the school and how that may play a role in their behavior at school," she said. "We must meet our social and emotional needs first. If we aren't meeting those needs first, students' brains are shut off to receiving what's being taught.

Hamilton teachers and staff have adopted the idea that if a student comes to school acting out in the morning, rather than sending them out, they take a moment to find out what is going on with that student. They understand that if there is not a good relationship between teacher and student, the student may not care to sit and listen to someone they feel doesn't care about them.

Clark said restorative conversations have helped Hamilton teachers and staff make huge strides in social-emotional learning, and are a big reason why suspension numbers are down. If a student is acting out, Clark will have a conversation with the teacher and the student. This, she said, helps the student learn proactive ways of dealing with anger, and it also helps the teacher identify issues the student may have and they can better assist them in addressing those issues.

Hamilton Elementary wants everyone - teachers, staff, students - to talk out their issues, and Clark said these restorative conversations eliminate the idea of having to result in some kind of disciplinary action.

Clark said another reason they want to reduce their suspensions is that they don't believe it does the student justice. She said they can't help a student if they aren't at school, so they are using creative methods instead.

In-school suspensions provide a means for discipline but also gives staff a chance to correct student behavior. The same goes for reverse suspensions - where a student's parent shadows their child at school for the day, setting an expectation that a student should behave at school the way they do when their parent is around.

In addition to seeing a decrease in traditional suspensions, Hamilton has also seen a decrease in referrals and in-school suspensions as well.

You can learn more about social-emotional learning practices here.

Kimberly Clark speaks with Hamilton student