Student chaos in classrooms has teachers looking to yoga mats, ‘conflict circles’ for solutions

The Harrisburg Education Association says behavioral issues involving students at some schools in Pennsylvania's capital led to the resignations of 45 teachers during a four-month period this year.

It sounds like the kind of thing that goes on in a pro wrestling ring, but instead, it’s happening inside classrooms.

Students reportedly are flipping “over tables, desks and chairs” in one Pennsylvania district, leading to calls for help from teachers, and similar behavior in schools nationwide is causing educators to look at alternative ways to cut down on misbehavior and unruliness — including swapping detention for yoga mats and holding one-on-one discussions.

“I have been hit, I have been kicked, I have been restrained from behind where I’ve been unable to move my arms,” Amanda Sheaffer, a first-grade teacher in Harrisburg, Pa., told her school board during a meeting Monday, according to FOX43.

She added: “It really throws off the whole day. I mean, you have an incident happen and you have to do a room clear, get all the students out, and then after that you have to take the time to do the write-up, and you have to make sure security comes and gets the kids.”

The Harrisburg Education Association said the unrest is only happening at a few schools in Pennsylvania’s capital, but it has led to the resignations of at least 45 teachers between July and October.

“We aren’t complaining. We are here begging for help so that we can help those students,” said Harrisburg Education Association President Jody Barksdale.

She continued: “Teachers and students are being hit, kicked, slapped, scratched, cussed at…and observing other students flip over tables, desks and chairs. Teachers have had to take the rest of their class into the hallway to protect them during these outbursts.”

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Harrisburg Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney agreed to Barksdale’s suggestion of an administrator, teacher and parent task force to address the situation, but said the district is constantly working to try to fix the problem, Penn Live reported.

“Unfortunately, some of these things take time,” Knight-Burney said. “They take time for training; they take time for investigation, and making sure that we are doing the right thing for our students.”

Could the right thing for students actually be yoga mats? It’s one of the changes being floated — a stark contrast to school disciplinary actions of yesteryear.

“Teachers and students are being hit, kicked, slapped, scratched, cussed at…”

– Harrisburg Education Association President Jody Barksdale

At Lancaster High School outside of Columbus, Ohio, educators this semester have brought in the Youth Yoga Project, a nonprofit group, to offer classes to students instead of detention.

The program, called REaCT, which stands for “Restorative Exercises and Coping Techniques,” is only available to students who commit minor offenses, such as defiance and noncompliance, WOSU reported. But teachers are hoping teens favor the “child’s pose” position over childish behavior.

“Our aim is to equip them with healthy tools they can use anytime, any place, through their breathing, focused awareness on their body and relaxation techniques, so that they can calm their nervous system and brain and make more responsible decisions,” yoga instructor Lauren Greenspan told WOSU.

The program also teaches breathing exercises and guided reflection.

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Teacher Laura Specht told WOSU it’s too early to tell how successful the program is, but they are aiming for long-term benefits.

Farther north, in Minnesota, St. Paul teachers are trying “restorative practices” such as one-on-one discussions with misbehaving students to help them take responsibility for their actions — but also keep them in their desks, not out of school with suspensions.

“Every Monday we get into circle to start our week,” Nicole Staab, a science teacher at the Farnsworth Aerospace school, which specializes in aerospace curriculum, told Fox News. “We reflect on our weekend, talk about what we liked and anything that did not go well and then we set a goal for the week.”

Shawn Davenport, a restorative practice program coordinator there, said the “conflict circles” are needed for students looking to “resolve low level issues with peers.

“Relationships, relationships, relationships is our school focus,” he told Fox News. “Our belief is if every student feels like they are a part of the classroom, then they are less likely to cause harm to that environment.”

Six St. Paul public schools received $150,000 last year for extra staff and to get teachers and parents up to speed with the new approach, according to MPR News. Overall, the district has committed $4 million to the effort over three years.

“Over the past couple years, Saint Paul Public Schools has seen a rise in dismissals, suspensions, fights, and safety concerns in our district,” Farnsworth Restorative Practice Program Coordinator Jim Yang told Fox News. “So there was a need to address some of the hurt that our district has been experiencing.”

Selah, an eighth-grade student who had a disagreement with a teacher at St. Paul’s Murray Middle School and has been sent out of class numerous times for talking, told MPR News that she was able to create a plan to do better after hashing out her differences during a face-to-face discussion with the instructor.

“I feel better about it because I expressed all my feelings I had, when before I kind of just held them to myself and that got more angry every time I thought about it,” Selah said.

The program has shown mixed results so far, as schools that started using it last year saw an increase in suspensions compared to the year prior, but fewer students getting sent to the principal’s office for misbehavior, MPR News reported, citing discipline data.

District officials, however, said it’s still too early to draw conclusions.

“Restorative practice isn’t just a practice to lower our numbers of suspensions and dismissals but a gift for our students, teachers, parents and community to be intentional to speak their truth, listen and learn from one another,” Yang told Fox News. “Then and only then will we be able to grow as a people, as a community, as a nation.”

Across the U.S., 2.8 million students in grades K-12 received one or more out of school suspensions in the 2013-2014 school year, the U.S. Department of Education says, but nationwide data isn’t available for more recent years.

[“Source-foxnews”]