Burien school leading new approach to keeping kids out of trouble

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by MEG COYLE / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @MegCoyleKING

KING5.com

Posted on September 24, 2013 at 5:30 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 24 at 7:00 PM

A school in Burien is leading the way in a new approach aimed at keeping more kids in school and out of trouble.

It's a method that focuses less on punishment and more on the person - and police are taking note.
 
The students at Big Picture School pride themselves on being a little different. In fact, it's what these students say sets them apart. But for all their differences, they do have one common goal: respect.
 
It's not easy. Just like at other schools, that big picture is often blurred by bad behavior. What's different here is how they address it.
 
"I first got in trouble for graffiti around the school," said high school senior Trey Tuitoelau.
 
But Tuitoelau didn't get kicked out. Instead, he faced a panel of his peers to work it out. It's a process called “restorative justice.”
 
"And to address the harms and root causes of a behavior or incident rather than just get rid of it and assume it's just going to go away," said Big Picture School Principal Garth Reeves.
 
Former student Laura Jimenez-Guerra knew that with so many kids in so much trouble, something had to change.

"They were just like me. It's a lot of low income like I was, people of color like I am. I was seeing all these root causes and nobody talking about them," said Jimenez-Guerra.
 
So she helped get everyone talking. And it's working.

"It makes you feel human," said Jimenez-Guerra.
 
"It's not even a bargain to me - you put the time in now or you put the time in later. And I'd rather put the time in now so the student can be successful," said Reeves.
 
When Trey Tuitoelau got in caught doing graffiti, he was given a choice: suspension or restorative justice. For him, the answer was easy.

"If you get restorative justice you learn from it and if I got suspended it just builds anger in me," said Tuitoelau.
 
Tuitoelau now serves as a mentor to junior high students and helps mediate conflicts, keeping kids on the right track.

Restorative justice is about more talk, less punitive action. A first-of-its-kind program that Tuitoelau says, gave him that all-important second chance.

"I felt like I was saved," said Tuitoelau.
 
Saved from the downward spiral suspensions can create by doing what Big Picture does best: trying something different.
 
Big Picture School has seen the number of suspensions drop dramatically. There are times, Reeves says, when suspension is appropriate punishment. But in many cases, intervention is the best medicine.
 
Seattle Police will discuss ways to incorporate the concept into its community police program this coming Thursday from 6:30 to 8:00pm at Seattle University's Chardin Hall, Room 144, 1020 E. Jefferson.
 
 

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