Boys’ school in DC focuses on helping young men of color: NPR


The public school is designed to meet the needs of young men of color. It includes a “restorative justice circle,” which includes the school psychologist, a social worker and counselors.


We will go around now. That’s what they call it at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Washington, DC When a student does something wrong, a small team, including a psychologist and a social worker, sit down with it. him in a circle. They explain why he did what he did, what he can do to make things right, and how he can prevent this from happening again. The idea is called restorative justice.


Now Ron Brown is a brand new public boys‘ high school in DC focused on serving young men of color, and he’s philosophically opposed to student suspension. Research shows that suspensions make struggling students more likely to drop out and even end up in jail.

INSKEEP: NPR’s Cory Turner and Education Week reporter Kavitha Cardoza spent the last year at Ron Brown – hundreds of hours – to see the beginnings of this new school. And they heard a lot of things, including, as we should caution, some languages ​​that people may find offensive. Today, they drag us into a circle with life and death consequences.

KAVITHA CARDOZA, BYLINE: It’s November 2016, and something happened at Ron Brown that put the whole school on edge.

CHARLES CURTIS: It made the headlines, actually – a shootout in Capitol Heights – six people were killed, two killed.

CARDOZA: Charles Curtis is Ron Brown’s psychologist and says one of the six people shot was a student here. We use her initial, D, to protect her privacy.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: It was a weekend dice game gone bad, and D is lucky. He was shot in the foot. His best friend was shot dead. Curtis says his team – known as Team CARE – spoke with D about his choices and the business he keeps.

CURTIS: Your best friend doesn’t come home anymore. He is dead. And it could’ve been you, and you got siblings, you got – you know, like, so I think we need to talk about that a little bit. But we also need to help you overcome the pain you are feeling.

TURNER: And they do it, in part, with a mending circle. Restorative justice is fairly new to many American schools, but it has been around for decades in places like Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil. And the research on its benefits has been promising.

CARDOZA: D’s mother, Tamara (ph), comes to school asking for help. She is raising four children alone. D is his eldest. And she knows he’s in trouble, so she joins her son in a circle with the CARE team. Yes, she is thankful that D was not seriously injured or killed. But she says she is exhausted by his behavior and fears her luck will change.

TAMARA: I’m really scared for him, really scared. And I just feel like I can’t do anything else.

TURNER: D collapses next to her. It is not provocative, sadder. Not only was he shot and lost his friend, he also faces several armed robbery charges and recently spent several nights in detention. He’s 16. Academically, he also struggles. But right now everyone knows that grades don’t matter if D can’t stay safe at night.

TAMARA: I can’t hold him in the house. So even though I say to myself, you don’t leave the front door – I can have a bat. I’m not going to hit him with it, but I just want to sit there. I’ll leave this bat here. If you go out the door, I’ll hit you. I know I’m not going to hit him. He knows I’m not going to hit him.

Then he will go to the bedroom. He will lock the door and he will go out the window. And what am I doing? I sit there for hours, scared – I can’t eat, I can’t think, I can’t do anything because I’m afraid to know where he is. I do not know where he is.

CARDOZA: School social worker Roosevelt Cohens asks D …

ROOSEVELT COHENS: Is it difficult for you to watch mom?

D: But who wants to see their mother hurt? Do you want to watch your mom cry?

CARDOZA: In case you don’t understand, D whispers, who wants to see their mother hurt? Do you want to watch your mom cry?

CURTIS: No, but I don’t want to make my mother cry.

COHENS: Right. Exactly. You’re right, I don’t.

CARDOZA: Cohens has been the oldest man on the CARE team for a few decades. When he speaks, the others lean forward.

COHENS: Most black men in the school system do not come into contact with any black men in the school system. You have four black men setting in this circle right here. Man, how blessed are you?

CARDOZA: He tells D that he counsels teenagers in DC jail and often stops at the door before entering.

COHENS: Seriously – and look around and say, man, I don’t wanna go to the [expletive] in there today. And man, I don’t want that for you. You too – you’re better than that, younger brother.

TURNER: At some point it’s D’s turn to share his feelings. It is an important part of restorative justice. Everyone has a voice. He is calm and a little difficult to understand. But he says when he was recently locked up he could feel the world closing in on him.

DB: I can’t fall asleep until, like, 4am because I was thinking about everything that was going on. And it just stressed me out. I felt bad for my mother. I don’t want to be gone.

TURNER: He says, I don’t want to be gone, especially his two little brothers and his little sister.

CARDOZA: Shatane Porter, a counselor, tells D he needs to find new friends.

SHATANE PORTER: The streets don’t love you back.

COHENS: No, sir.

PORTER: I promise.

COHENS: No, they don’t.

PORTER: If you get locked up, I guarantee it, the only person who comes to put money in your commissary, comes to make these visits, it is your mother.

CARDOZA: Porter knows. Her father spent 18 years in prison. And he says to D, it’s gonna change you.

PORTER: If you’re an animal before entering, you’re going to be worse off. If you are not an animal, either you will become an animal or you will be devoured in it.

CARDOZA: D says he will do anything to avoid jail.

TURNER: And this is where the circle is moving – very intentionally. It’s not just about talking. It’s about developing a plan together. Come to school, the CARE team told him, on time, every day.

CARDOZA: Tamara also wants D to agree to a curfew – every night of the week, at 8:30 p.m. Curtis, the psychologist, fully supports the idea.

CURTIS: You don’t [expletive] outside. You are not doing anything productive. You are not doing anything legal. But yeah, bro, it’s got to – 8:30, that’s what mom said. Like, that’s where we’re at with this. You don’t do anything – you shouldn’t do anything.

TURNER: Dawaine Cosey, also a member of the CARE team, adds another request. Long before this curfew every night, check with your mom.

DAWAINE COSEY: Text him. Like, that way moms don’t have to wonder – do these clichés …

TAMARA: Every day, they’re out there, shooting – every day.

COSEY: That’s what I’m talking about. It’s little stuff like that that lets moms know like, okay, I’m aware of moms feelings. I love moms, so at least let me help her.

TURNER: Curtis, the psychologist, nails him.

CURTIS: At 7 am everyday, can you schedule a date with your mom? Mom, well, I love you.

CARDOZA: D is reluctant but agrees. After more than two hours in a circle, everyone is silent.

TURNER: Curtis stamps his foot and breaks the tension, laughing. He says what everyone clearly feels: I’m tired. In the months that follow, D largely sticks to the plan. But it’s also clear, he has a long way to go.


INSKEEP: Cory Turner of NPR and Kavitha Cardoza of Education Week. You can hear their full story project, titled “Raising Kings,” on the NPR Code Switch podcast.


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