The student news source of Iowa City West High

De-escalation

October 7, 2022

With each new school year, ICCSD schools adapt their approach to fit students’ needs. After a year of increased violence, they put new plans into place to discourage violence. One of these plans is the new filming policy — any student caught recording a fight will be suspended. At West, Gross believes this rule will help prevent students from instigating fights as well as aid in de-escalating the situation. 

“Whether we’re in school or just in life, if we come across a conflict, hopefully the first impulse isn’t to record it, [it is] to aid and help and de-escalate it,” Gross said. “That’s what we want our students to be doing, not just capturing a video.”

Additionally, this year, the ICCSD has changed how its schools address out-of-school suspensions. Tate High School is an alternative high school in the ICCSD. The school has a smaller setting with goals to maximize every student’s potential. If a student in high school receives a suspension of five or more days, they go to Tate for four days, and return to their home high school for the fifth. Gross believes this will help students stay on track when they need time away from the normal school environment. 

“I think there are certain situations where a student needs to be removed from an environment but just sending a kid home, I don’t know if that does anything. In fact, I would argue it probably makes things worse, because then that kid gets further behind,” Gross said. “They could be isolated with no social connection at all. I can’t be sure that they’re eating, that they get meals. It’s supposed to actually help you so when you come back into our school, you’re not really behind.”

Out-of-school suspensions at Tate provide students with time to talk and reflect on their situation. Once students are ready to come back to school, administrators meet with the student’s family to create a plan.

“It’s more of a therapeutic approach to a discipline issue, rather than saying, ‘Alright, you’re home for five days, see you five days later,’” Gross said. “Whenever you get suspended, we schedule a reentry meeting, and say, ‘Here’s what happened’ and [go over] the expectations, so it’s a real concrete plan of reintroducing the student back into the school.”

The smaller student population at Tate allows teachers and administrators to know about conflicts before they escalate. Although this can be more difficult for schools the size of West to address, Tate Dean of Students Kristina Brown doesn’t think it’s impossible. 

“I think that it’s harder to implement some of the things we do at Tate High School at the larger schools, but I don’t think it should be the barrier to implementing anything,” Brown said.

In order to address fights at the root of the problem, the ICCSD continues to implement Social-Emotional Learning, or SEL, presentations during advisory time. The lessons are created to teach students about healthy ways to deal with their emotions.

“When you’re not feeling good, when you’re about to blow up, there are some strategies that you could do to self-regulate. There’s a place you can go to take a timeout, you don’t have to just let it explode,” Gray said. “I think that is what’s happening; things are exploding. Either people feel like they can’t go to a trusted person to say, ‘Hey, I’m feeling this’ or they just don’t have the skills to say, ‘Okay, these are some things that I could do differently.’”

I think that is what’s happening; things are exploding. Either people feel like they can’t go to a trusted person to say, ‘Hey, I’m feeling this’ or they just don’t have the skills to say, ‘Okay, these are some things that I could do differently.’”

— Laura Gray, ICCSD Executive Director of Diversity and Cultural Responsiveness

Through SEL, the ICCSD is working on presenting these skills to students to help them better understand their choices when it comes to their feelings. Art teacher Christian Aanestad recognizes that while students may not find these lessons useful, they are a step in the right direction. 

“I think it is a little [bit of a] manufactured concept, that it comes out in this way that [makes it] hard to convey sincerity,” Aanestad said. “But I think if it’s not said, you have no chance of making an impact and making a connection.”

As of this year, West High also provides students with spaces to process thoughts, such as NESTT and SPACE. The NESTT, or Navigating Emotions and Stress Through Training, is an area where students can take a moment to de-stress. Turn to pages 10-11 to learn more.

Another resource students may use during times where they feel overwhelmed is Student Prevention, Access, Connection and Engagement, or SPACE. For a student to have access to SPACE, they must receive a teacher referral. Kristin Brack, the SPACE Coordinator, expresses that SPACE is a great place to go when students feel like fighting and need to overcome that urge.

“SPACE is a place that [students] can come to and have restorative conversation before [a conflict] escalates into something that’s physical,” Brack said. “We’ve had students just come in for advice [saying], ‘I’m going through this problem at home or with my family. What are some steps that I can do to make things better?’”

Maleunda feels that SPACE is a place where adults will listen to what teenagers have to say.

“Go there if you need advice and if you need somebody to talk to because they always listen. They’ll listen to your story. If you’re having a bad day, go in there [and] they will help you out,” Maleunda said. 

Busch tries to make connections with each student that walks into his room. He believes it’s important to show them that science isn’t all they have to talk about and hopes this practice helps students know they can come to him whenever they have a problem.

“I try to compliment something about maybe what they’re doing or if they competed [athletically] the night before. I just try to have more personal conversations and relationships. I try to share stories from my life to kind of show them that even though I’m your teacher, I’m still human,” Busch said. “I’ve still dealt with a lot of issues that maybe you are dealing with. I have some advice or maybe some insight that might be useful.”

Busch believes giving students respect helps them open up about their own lives more.

“I think a lot of [conversation] comes with giving students respect whenever they have deserved and earned it, but then also holding them accountable whenever they start to slip,” Busch said. “If you are able to tread those waters lightly and also keep a positive spin on things, students tend to respect that a little bit more and tend to come to you with more things to talk about —  good, bad or in between.”

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