A youth committee is looking to make its mark on the Long Beach Unified School District by emphasizing different disciplinary measures to keep children in school.
The Every Student Matters Campaign will kick off at 4 p.m., Saturday, March 30, at Cesar Chavez Park. Long Beach Building Healthy Communities — a 10-year initiative funded by the California Endowment — is leading the campaign, specifically its Youth Committee component. Multiple local community activist groups comprise its members.
“We’ve basically done some research around how best to support young people in school,” said Lian Cheun, executive director of participant Khmer Girls in Action. “We’re looking at alternative policies that could help young people be more successful in staying in school and graduating.”
At the crux of the campaign is the belief that certain disciplinary measures are detrimental to keeping students engaged with learning and going to school — particularly suspensions, Cheun said. Campaign volunteers point to the Restorative Justice model of discipline.
“Basically, instead of suspending a student immediately, it’s a way to bring young people together — both perpetrator and victim — in a circle and teach young people how to get to the root of their problem,” Cheun said. “Generally, when they normally come back from suspension, they’re still mad at each other, and they lost instruction time, so they fall behind in class, as well.”
Cheun said currently Will J. Reid High School is in the midst of a pilot program regarding the Restorative Justice Model, and members of the campaign would like to spread similar training to other parts of the Long Beach Unified School District.
“We want to teach young people how to talk out their problems and create action steps to be able to make up for the harm they’ve caused,” she said. “We’re trying to meet with school officials in order to start this conversation.”
LBUSD spokesman Chris Eftychiou said the district will continue to analyze the results of the pilot program at the high school.
“They are indeed piloting the restorative justice model there, and students anecdotally seem to be responding favorably to that,” he said.
LBUSD numbers show there were 673 in-school suspensions and 4,495 out of school suspensions for the 2011-2012 school year. Youth Committee members also said they were concerned with an over-representation of African-American students in suspensions and an underrepresentation of those same students in being college-prepared when they graduate.
“We want to deal with those issues (that lead to a suspension) while still supporting them toward achievement,” Cheun said.
Eftychiou said that LBUSD continues to see gains in students of different ethnicities — especially with enrollment in programs like advanced placement classes — each year.
“We’ve been recognized for closing achievement gaps, but we understand that we still have work to do,” he said.
On Saturday, the event will be a panel forum, where education experts, students and parents come together to address issues important to the campaign.
The Youth Committee is made up of more than 30 people, ages 16-24. There is a Facebook page for the campaign, “Every Student Matters.” Information also can be obtained by visiting www.bhclongbeach.org.