At Freeport Public Schools, creating a safe, welcoming and affirming environment for every student, staff member and stakeholder isn’t just a priority, but a fundamental necessity. We acknowledge the need for an educational environment that fosters a sense of belonging and support, ensuring that all have an opportunity to thrive academically, socially and emotionally.
Our commitment to this vision includes steps to instill a culture where every member of our community feels valued and supported. The belief that administrators and staff shared a responsibility to nurture an environment where each student can flourish is at the core of our ethos.
Freeport schools offer professional learning opportunities to district staff designed to foster Social-Emotional Learning aligned with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. We recognize that a well-rounded education goes beyond academic achievement; it encompasses emotional well-being, social growth and inclusivity.
One significant area of focus has been the implementation of Restorative Practices, which focus on repairing harm and building positive relationships in the aftermath of conflicts or wrongdoing. These practices involve inclusive dialogue, empathy and collaborative problem-solving to address the needs of those involved. Social-Emotional Learning and Restorative Practices share common objectives — fostering positive relationships, creating supportive environments, and promoting emotional well-being. Both approaches prioritize building a sense of community and addressing conflicts constructively.
Our varied professional learning opportunities have brought our staff together, creating discussion and analysis of how Social-Emotional Learning and Restorative Practices can synergize. These sessions have empowered our educators to teach and inspire, fostering empathetic and respectful learning communities, and have enabled our staff to construct personal visions for the school year, applying what they have learned.
Our educators have immersed themselves in the fundamental principles of Restorative Practices, understanding how it impacts academic achievement, student behavior, and a school’s overall culture and climate. Learning sessions have provided an opportunity to connect Restorative Practices with the district’s vision of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and showcased the significance of integration. By merging Restorative Practices with DEI principles, our district is taking significant strides toward creating an environment that values collaboration, equity and the well-being of all community members.
The commitment to this approach aligns seamlessly with our broader goals of fostering a positive and inclusive educational experience. Our Freeport educators in grades five through 12 have participated in community-building circles and have learned the basics of circle facilitation — foundational skills to Restorative Practices. These circle processes are not confined to them; the strategies demonstrated in these sessions are applicable to staff meetings, family engagement and all other gatherings of Freeport community members.
Research strongly suggests that teachers who regularly facilitate circles are perceived as more respectful by students, with fewer behavioral referrals and increased student engagement. The commitment to these practices can be seen in our educators at Caroline G. Atkinson School, J.W. Dodd Middle School and Freeport High School, who have volunteered to continue this work through our embedded coaching model. Their primary focus is to build the capacity to facilitate Restorative Circles in their classrooms.
Participants in this coaching model are taught to facilitate circles with fidelity, manage behaviors during circles, employ trauma-informed circles, and use circles to address problems in the class while promoting Social-Emotional Learning and Cultural Responsiveness. These teachers will, in turn, become teacher leaders, training other staff members and fostering a community of educators committed to the principles of Restorative Practices.
Students from Freeport High and J.W. Dodd Middle School have volunteered to participate in student-led Restorative Circle training. These structured discussions, facilitated by students, are designed to promote communication skills, enhance Social-Emotional Learning, foster community, create a sense of belonging and develop leadership skills. Student-led Restorative Circles provide a structured approach to addressing conflicts among students, encouraging accountability, creating a safe space for dialogue and nurturing the leaders of tomorrow.
Understanding the importance of consistency and sustainability, the team has examined how to embed these solutions into each school’s systems and policies. Effective communication is at the heart of Restorative Practices, and administrators have incorporated active listening, open-ended questioning and dialogue facilitation into their skill sets. These skills enhance the ability to address conflicts, build a positive school climate, and foster a sense of belonging and inclusion for everyone.
Freeport Public Schools aren’t just an institution of learning; they are a community committed to the holistic development of every individual. Our journey toward creating a culture of inclusivity isn’t a mere initiative; it is a commitment woven into our educational philosophy. We want every student, educator and stakeholder to thrive and become an integral part of a community that celebrates diversity, promotes equity and values the well-being of all.
Kishore Kuncham is the superintendent of Freeport Public Schools.