Coming Together to Explore Ways to Dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Different Perspectives and Contributions

We were convened by Dr. Gilda Shepard and Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum of the Multifaith Coalition for Restorative Justice to cocreate the collaborative, youth centered event we shared with over one hundred guests.  

When we were introduced to each other last spring, we began to understand the different, but complementary perspectives we bring to solving this

problem. Each of our organizations have a different vantage point for seeing the problem, and different tools and skills to apply to be part of the solution.

Because of the wealth of knowledge and practice each organization brings to the table, we believed that together, we would be much more effective than trying to address this problem alone.

Practices in Education that Impact Young People

We know that there are parallels between the methods of dealing with human behavior in schools and the method of dealing with human behavior in society. These methods result in exclusion and incarceration for young people and adults. Practices in education that create belonging, teach social-emotional skills, and provide opportunity for young people to have voice and agency in their school experience emerged as preventative measures to exclusion and incarceration. These practices not only disrupt educator behaviors that exclude young people (whether intentional or unintentional), they also teach and empower young people to show up in more pro-social ways aligning with our innate human need for connection. During the event, young people shared firsthand experiences of  how exclusionary and carceral actions by adults have impacted their school experiences. They shared that the systems in school often leave students, particularly youth of color, feeling disconnected, overwhelmed, overly punished, excluded and unheard. They offered powerful ideas for solutions that recognize students’ strengths, honor youth identity, create a sense of calm, and genuinely listen to the needs and wisdom of young people.

Next, we heard from the adult community leaders who are working to disrupt these traditional oppressive school experiences. They all took the opportunity to validate the young people’s perspectives and amplify the solutions identified by the youth. It was clear that young people, who are at the center of this school and prison nexus, are expertly aware of transformative changes that could be made to reshape school culture. The shared goal is to move toward a culture that effectively centers learning and growth, rather than punitive measures. The audience was inspired by the conversation, expressing gratitude for the courage  of the young people and their creative solutions.

Continuing to Work in Collaboration

For us at BELONG Partners, it was an honor and a privilege to be in community with many other amazing people – young and older – to teach and inspire conversation about disrupting the school to prison pipeline. Standing alongside fellow organizations while also sharing about mindset and practical changes to disrupt the pipeline was an important opportunity to advocate for the change we believe is necessary and possible. We look forward to continuing to collaborate, engage with our community, and work toward ending the school-to-prison pipeline together.

This article was written by Sylvia Hadnot, a facilitator with BELONG Partners, and Stacy Lappin, the Director of Program.