KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Over the last few years, school districts like Kansas City Public Schools were moving away from a punitive mindset and moving toward restorative practices. However, the pandemic halted those important sessions.
Experts say trauma is showing up in more violent ways in some students' lives.
Just when it seemed like they were making strides in teaching students about how to deal with their problems, COVID-19 hit, and the Center for Conflict Resolution staff is now playing catch up.
"I think we expect kids to just kind of be on hold when we're not around them and that's not how it works," Annette Lantz-Simmons, executive director of the Center for Conflict Resolution, said. "If adults are being affected by something, we know that kids who don't have the tools adults have are being even more so affected."
Virtual learning didn't support the hands-on, classroom-centered education that conflict resolution requires.
Lantz-Simmons said the center is just now getting back into schools.
"It's having access to kids, giving them good messaging, giving them support," Lantz-Simmons said. "It's letting them talk about their trauma and finding out other ways to deal with that."
The center's staff hasn't been able to get back to Northeast Middle School, where Tuesday morning a student stabbed another student in a bathroom with a knife.
Lantz-Simmons couldn't comment on the actual incident, but said they're seeing explosive behavior like this more and more.
"I firmly believe that it all has to do with trauma," Lantz-Simmons said. "Some kids who have had trauma throughout their lives, it compounds, and then they come to this place where somebody looks at them wrong or someone says something and they just fly off the handle and don't have the tools to calm down."
Lantz-Simmons said many kids they are in contact with fight with other students daily. She doesn't blame it all on the pandemic but said it was a huge setback.
"Having them separated from their school community, from supportive adults, from the learning environment has affected them deeply," Lantz-Simmons said.
What schools are realizing, Lantz-Simmons said, is that punishment doesn't necessarily work. Kids don't have reasoning skills the way many adults do. She says the center's training is crucial.
The center has worked with KCPS and Hickman Mills School District on a regular basis, but now they're getting calls from Shawnee Mission School District, Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools, North Kansas City School District and even from some districts in St. Louis.
"And we're kind of it in this area for restorative practices and people are finding us, so we have way more business than we know what to do with," Lantz-Simmons said.
The center works with students one-on-one, but Lantz-Simmons said the most effective method is a classroom setting, where each student and teacher participates in the sessions over six weeks.
They talk about human dignity versus respect, the choices we have in a conflict, what happens to a person's brain when we're in conflict and how different types of trauma affects us.
"What we do in training is try to take them from where they are to a step-by-step and the cognitive change that takes place when you actually think through what can happen in a situation," Lantz-Simmons said.
Many students at Northeast Middle School heard rumors and stories about why the two students were in a conflict, which eventually allegedly led to the stabbing.
In a stressful and emotional situation, a child may not be able to think ahead about what the outcome might be. Lantz-Simmons said it's because they haven't been given the tools.
"The coaching with kids is always, 'And then what? And then what?' It's not a punitive like, 'What did you think was going to happen?' but, you know, 'And then what might happen?'" Lantz-Simmons said. "And just kind of getting them to have it from inside here so that it's not an authority telling them what's going to happen but they can come to the realization and then make those changes they need to."
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