OKEECHOBEE — According to Yearling Middle School Dean of Students Walt Caves, the school has seen a marked decline in extreme behavior by students during the first few weeks of the 2020 school year. Zero students have been suspended four weeks into the year.
Last year by this time, he had processed 20 days worth of out-of-school suspensions.
“We still have students earning steps and referrals this year, but the level of infraction has changed drastically,” Caves said. “We just aren’t seeing the more severe behavior. We are only seeing lower-level behaviors so far, and that has really created a different feel around here.”
Yearling’s leadership team along with a group of teachers committed to changing how discipline issues were managed on campus in 2019-20. As a school, YMS committed to a restorative approach to discipline in which students and staff are included in restorative circle discussions to resolve conflicts and “restore” relationships. Focus was placed on understanding how other people in situations are made to feel as a result of behaviors while learning how to change behavior when later faced with a similar situation.
This year YMS added “accountable talks.” Every Thursday during math classes, all students participate in a discussion about a topic or concept provided by the school’s leadership team. These talks are designed to elicit input from every student and staff member in the classroom with the goal of building relationships, gaining a deeper understanding of one another and, ultimately, building empathy for others. The math department was trained in leading “accountable talks” by Mr. Caves and math teacher Zack Stanley, who participated in a training on these systems during the 2019-20 school year.
“The drastic change in student behavior and school culture are direct results of Mr. Caves’ hard work, Mr. Caves’ and Mr. Stanley’s modeling and professional development, and especially our teachers’ commitment to transforming YMS culture for the better,” said YMS Principal David Krakoff “Also, our students are unbelievable. When provided clear expectations and procedures and when our staff works hard to foster relationships along with helping students to bond with one another, our students are simply the best young people around. It truly is a privilege and honor to serve this staff, our students and our community.”
“Students are far less likely to engage in verbal or physical behavior that negative affects others when they have a relationship with others,” continued Krakoff. “It’s much easier to be cruel or inappropriate to a stranger but when it’s a real person who we know, acts that lack compassion aren’t so easy and thoughtless to commit.”