In 2022, the Steelcase Foundation awarded Michigan State University a one-year $29,853 grant to establish a Research-Practice Partnership with four districts within Kent ISD (Comstock Park, Kenowa Hills, Kelloggsville, and Kentwood Public Schools) and researchers from the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC) at Michigan State University to understand the implementation and overall effects of social emotional and restorative practice programming taking place throughout the county.
Restorative Practices (RP) is an approach used in K-12 schools that builds relationships between students, and teachers and students, in an effort to prevent misbehavior from occurring, and utilizes non-punitive methods to repair harm when misbehavior does occur, reintegrating students into the school community. About 80 percent of RP is proactive and focused on building relationships and community among those within school, while the remaining 20 percent is focused on restorative measures and reteaching norms and expectations when issues occur.
Kentwood Public Schools Superintendent, Kevin Polston, credits RP’s process as one that seeks to build greater sense of belonging by getting to know students more deeply before taking expedient measures, saying, “Through restorative conferences we have families that know each other more deeply, children that know each other more deeply, and the school knows the families more deeply.”
Brooke Davis, director of diversity, equity and mental health services at Kenowa Hills Public Schools, noted appreciation for the researchers’ efforts to conduct interviews with teachers, administrators and especially students, to further inform what’s happening in districts noting, “Culture and climate drive academic instruction. If you have a good culture and climate your academics will be stronger. If students feel like they belong and they have a voice in what’s going on, your academics will be stronger.”
MSU hopes to scale the early learnings of the research-practice partnership across Kent ISD, bringing in additional partners for cross-district collaboration to tackle common problems and replicate successes countywide to positively impact students. As more districts join the partnership and add their insights and experiences to the work, researchers like Jerome Graham will have greater insights to draw on to expand the body of research around restorative practices. “Ultimately, we realize we can’t continue as we have been. Our reliance on exclusionary discipline practices is really harmful, and restorative practices provides a proven alternative. The more examples of success stories that we’re able to provide brings us closer to replacing the exclusionary systems that we use with ones that center restoration and community.”
We hope additional districts join in the research-practice partnership in the coming year to increase our shared knowledge around restorative practice to create school climates where students feel like they belong and their voices are heard, so that every student in Kent County can thrive.