In a room of brightly colored motivational posters and yoga mats, two middle school students sit across from one another in a circle of comfy blow-up chairs, glaring at each other, and talking through an argument of name-calling that almost escalated to fist-throwing.
The boy, with his hoodie up and his eyes on the ground, says he felt that his classmate had disrespected him and his mother. The girl, leaning forward in her seat and with a loud voice, said she felt that he had overreacted to a joke. Neither was interested in apologizing, and when their bickering turned to yelling, their teacher sent them to the reflection room at Kirby Middle School in Memphis, where students are encouraged to resolve conflicts before they escalate.
The charter middle school, a part of the Achievement School District, has cut its suspension rate in half this school year–it’s now down to 11 percent. In the state’s turnaround district for low-performing schools, reducing suspensions–and consequently, improving attendance–is a key way to improve student performance. Finding different ways of dealing with behavior is especially important in this district, where many of its students come from poverty and childhood trauma.
Back in the reflection room, Rolander Mann calmly asks the students, “Was there a way you could have handled this differently?”