ST. GEORGE — Washington Elementary School implemented a new anti-bullying measure called “restorative justice” on campus.

Washington Elementary School is home of the Eagles | Image courtesy of Washington County School District, St George News

This method, which is a departure from conventional disciplinary actions, aims to help students understand their mistakes and make amends rather than punish them, school principal Kelly Mitchell said during a meeting held Tuesday by the Washington County School District Board of Education.

One specific focus of the new policy is developing students’ abilities to behave better in the future rather than using temporary solutions such as suspensions.

“Restorative justice shifts the focus of student discipline from strictly punishing the student to helping the student reflect, learn and repair,” Mitchell said.

At the heart of this approach is the “restorative skills classroom,” managed by on-site behavior technicians, where the offending students can work on contracts to improve their social, emotional and behavioral skills.

Mitchell told the story of “T,” a pseudonym for a fifth grade student. Before the implementation of restorative justice, T was a bully, Mitchell said. She used to harass one student in particular. Rather than intervene with “temporary solutions,” the school drafted a contract for T that included bullying awareness education, sessions with the school counselor to grasp the effects of bullying and reflective writing tasks.

T also was required to write an apology letter to her fellow student and their parents.

The “Level Up” leaderboard at Washington Elementary School in Washington, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of, St George News

Restorative justice works, Mitchell said.

“Since completing this restorative process, the victim has reported that T is now her friend,” Mitchell said. “She checks on her and has been her ally when other students have mistreated her.”

Another way the school promotes good behavior is through “Level Up,” an initiative that encourages students to take ownership of their learning and behavior through goal-setting and positive reinforcement.

“The theme of ‘Level Up’ is inspired by the iconic Nintendo video game series, Super Mario,” Mitchell said.

The program focuses on teaching students good behavior and then monitoring and providing positive reinforcement every week. One of the main points of the program is the leaderboard. Updated weekly, Mitchell said, the leaderboard provides a healthy sense of competition and pride among students.

“We want our students to take ownership of their learning through setting goals that provide focus and motivation,” Mitchell said.

One of these positive behaviors is good attendance. Students who are punctual and present are recognized during weekly morning announcements. The class with the highest monthly attendance rate wins free churros.

Rain drenches Washington Elementary School, St. George, Utah, Nov. 20, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Stephen McMullin, St. George News

Teachers also hold data meetings every six weeks to review student progress and set new goals. In kindergarten, students who meet their goals are rewarded with a golden coin to display on the wall and a plastic golden coin to take home. A similar approach is used in fifth grade classrooms, where students set academic goals and track their progress after each assessment.

The school’s data shows that the program has succeeded so far. One metric that quantifies the progress is reading proficiency among first grade students, which has increased from 60% to 73% over three years.

Mitchell shared an anecdote about a first grade student dealing with significant personal trauma, including the incarceration of his mother and the homicide of his father.

This student missed his reading goal by just one word. Determined, he asked to retake the test. This time, he achieved his goal.

Mitchell hopes the students continue learning through “Level Up.”

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