Last year Hoover High School teachers cut suspensions by 80 percent after being trained to recognize and address trauma in their students.
Hoover is building on that success by establishing a wellness center. It will offer traditional counseling, substance abuse counseling, legal help and referrals to other services for the students and their families.
The school is located in City Heights, where many low-income and immigrant families live.
Principal Joe Austin used the example of a fight on the quad. He said students would first go to the on-campus health center for scrapes and bruises, and then visit the wellness center.
“We would let a cooling-off take place, but then address the issues at hand. What caused this? What were some of the antecedents? How did this fight get started?” Austin said. “And we would address not just the two people involved in the fight, but the friends and witnesses. How were they impacted?”
Austin has also hired a pupil advocate to help connect students to the array of services at the school.
“As busy as teachers are, there’s a lot going on to keep abreast of all the services,” Austin said. “At Hoover, we’re really fortunate to have no shortage of onsite services and talented people here to serve kids, but also a plethora of community services that are standing by ready to help.”
The effort follows a national trend to soften punitive measures in schools in favor of a more healing approach. The behavior problem is considered a symptom of a larger emotional or household problem.
Students at nearby Crawford High School have implemented a restorative justice program in which students act as mediators for peers who are at odds or committed crimes in the neighborhood. And districtwide, principals now have more discretion in expelling students for behavior like smoking, fighting and possessing drugs.
Last school year, the San Diego Unified School District saw expulsions drop 60 percent over the previous year.
More school districts could soon be compelled to make similar changes.
On Thursday, a Los Angeles judge began hearing a case that will decide whether trauma from growing up in a violent neighborhood can be considered a disability. Students in Compton filed a class action lawsuit against their schools, alleging they were too often punished for behavior caused by trauma. The case could set a precedent nationwide.