Stephen P. Robinson Collaboration Grant Report: Carolina Friends School
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Posted by: Christina Mimms
Carolina Friends School received the Stephen P. Robinson Collaboration Grant in order to expand collaborations with area schools focused on creating positive, peaceful, and safe school climates. The vision for the project was to create a collaboration among four organizations: Carolina Friends School, Carter Community Charter School, Duke University Program in Education, and Peaceful Schools, NC for the purpose of:
- strengthening the school climate at Carter Charter Community School in keeping with the principles of Peaceful Schools, NC;
- fostering student leadership at Carter Community Charter School and Carolina Friends School;
- developing shared engagement in service learning in the wider community through collaborative relationships between teachers and students at Carter Community Charter School, Carolina Friends School, and pre-service teachers in the Duke University Program in Education.
View Carolina Friends School’s video presentation at the 2015 SAIS Annual Conference here.
Carolina Friends School (CFS) is an independent Quaker School with 500 students ages 3-18. The purposes of the collaboration are highly aligned the school’s commitment to peaceful conflict resolution and respect for all. The project provided opportunities for CFS staff and students to partner with others in positively impacting the wider community.
Peaceful Schools NC (PSNC) supports schools and teachers in social curriculum, school climate, and sustaining healthy school communities. PSNC is guided by a committee of CFS staff, charter school educators, Duke faculty, and interested community members.
Carter Community Charter School (CCCS) was founded in 1998. Focused on closing the achievement gap, Carter serves 285 children in grades K-8. Ninety percent of students at Carter qualify for free and reduced lunch and eighty-five percent are African American, twelve percent are Hispanic, and three percent represent a range of racial and cultural backgrounds. CCCS is keenly interested in reducing suspensions and developing a healthy and safe school climate.
Duke University’s Program in Education (PiE) has a long and successful history in supporting educational partnerships in the wider Durham community. This particular collaboration is aligned with Duke’s commitment to service learning and to educating pre-service teachers to be skillful in creating safe respectful classroom environments.
Timeline and Accomplishments
Our work began in May 2015. Members of Peaceful Schools NC and Carolina Friends School initially met with the principal of Carter Community Charter School to gather information and gain an understanding of the current school climate of CCCS. In June, we met with a larger cohort of CCCS staff members to hear about experiences teachers were having in class and among students. The CCCS staff addressed challenges in regard to school safety, conflict in the school, and obstacles to sustaining a safe, thriving school climate. Those challenges ranged from classroom management to behavior on busses to and from school. Common themes emerged yielding four specific areas of focus for our work together:
- Refining the discipline processes to intentionally shift from employing punishment to applying logical consequences and strategies that support growth and responsibility;
- Providing opportunities for student voice, thereby promoting student ownership and accountability;
- Teaching students and staff strategies for anger management and conflict resolution;
- Strengthening digital citizenship particularly related to student use of social media.
Since September 2015, Peaceful Schools NC and Carolina Friends School have provided support and consultation to help CCCS move towards its goals for a safer school climate. Three meetings took place in September to plan specific steps and provide a roadmap for the year including:
- Two professional development days with the entire CCCS staff;
- A Parent Action Meeting to share the work of Peaceful Schools NC at CCCS with the parent community;
- Opportunities for Duke Program in Education pre-service teachers;
- Collaboration of CFS and CCCS in development of a digital citizen curriculum to address the current needs of students;
- Collaboration of administration and CCCS’s Behavioral Specialist in developing discipline processes that support student growth and development;
- Providing CCCS staff with lesson plans for teaching anger management;
- Inviting CFS students to CCCS for shared dialogue about violence in our world and violence in schools.
The months of October through November yielded many opportunities to meet these action steps. Our first professional development training with CCCS focused on student voice, current challenges staff experience in regards to traditional norms of discipline for students, and strategies to move forward with discipline that includes accountability and restitution, leaning on restorative justice practices. While prior meetings had been with small groups of CCCS staff members, this day was an opportunity to work with the entire staff. The level of buy-in and investment across the school faculty demonstrated great potential for success.
In addition to our professional development collaboration, CCCS staff was joined by CFS staff and Duke Program in Education students at Peaceful Schools NC’s The School to Prison Pipeline, a conference focused on school climate, collaboration, and conflict resolution skills for teachers. In a further demonstration of community wide support and collaboration, the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Foundation provided scholarships for ten CCCS staff members.
Following the school wide professional development day and the Peaceful School’s conference, our team met twice in November to share ideas and pilot a lesson which allows students to collaboratively generate their classroom rules and agreements. In December, teachers debriefed their experiences with the lesson. Reflections included support for students’ abilities to name key responsibilities to keep classrooms safe, frustration because students were “not used to having conversations like this,” and satisfaction with student input in light of the careful facilitation by their teachers. Our team agreed that this process would be beneficial for the whole school, setting a goal that each CCCS teacher would implement this lesson prior to January 19, in preparation for the next Peaceful Schools NC professional development day.
The work made possible by this grant continued into February. The following dates were set for next steps:
- January 19: Peaceful Schools professional development day, attended by CFS staff, Peaceful Schools staff, Duke Program in Education students, and the whole CCCS staff.
- January 28: A group of CCCS staff will visit Carolina Friends School and Central Park School for Children to observe ways in which the Peaceful Schools NC program is carried out in different schools.
- February 23: CFS and CCCS Middle School students will meet at CCCS to discuss the role violence plays in our society and in our schools. Students will be asked to engage in critical dialogue and envision positive action they can take in their schools.
Additionally, we will continue to work together to support the development of discipline processes, which we anticipate will be ready for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Obstacles and Challenges
There have been two significant challenges to our process. First, CCCS had a very high staff turnover rate between June and August. Of the approximate 25 staff members, 10 positions needed to be filled to start the year. This significantly impacted our timeline of beginning the school year with an all-staff professional development workshop. Instead, we began on a smaller scale and then expanded in mid-September. Second, aligning the schedules of Duke Program in Education students with our meetings and professional development days was challenging. Fortunately, there are two ways in which Duke students have been connected to this work. Duke Program in Education students participated alongside PSNC, CFS, and CCCS at the School to Peace Pipeline conference. Duke students also serve as tutors at CCCS.
In the interest of promoting safe peaceful school climates in our community’s schools, significant groundwork has been laid in the collaboration among Carolina Friends School, Carter Community Charter School, Duke University, and Peaceful Schools NC. This groundwork provides us substantial opportunities for future collaborative work. We have identified the following areas for next steps:
- Education for digital citizenship – Both CFS and CCCS are eager to educate students K-12 to make safe and responsible use of technology. Our original goal of developing curriculum in the fall to be implemented in the spring proved to be too ambitious a timeline. A committee of CFS staff has been developing a digital citizenship curriculum building on work by Providence Day School. Next fall, CFS and CCCS will be able to make use of this curriculum.
- Continued increase of restorative justice practices – CCCS is eager to build on work begun this year to strengthen opportunities to reduce suspensions and to increase responding to behavioral challenges as opportunities for growth.
- Student to student partnerships – Both CFS and CCCS are interested in continuing to develop ways for our students to partner and explore how they can contribute to making a difference in our schools and communities.
- Outreach to other schools to share the work of building safe and peaceful schools and communities.
Our collaboration has yielded many significant steps to set the course for CCCS to create a more positive, peaceful, and safe school climate. As standard in PSNC practice, it will take time and extended resources for this vision to come to fruition. As this grant comes to a close, we are actively seeking opportunities to continue support for CCCS.