Charter school disciplines with tough love, responsibility

Posted April 11, 2010 9:17 a.m. EDT
Updated April 11, 2010 10:25 a.m. EDT

Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, shows how a Texas charter uses tough discipline to teach responsibility to others.

YES! Prep North Central, part of a system of middle and high school charter schools in Houston, uses a discipline system called Restoring Individual Student Excellence.

"R.I.S.E. is an important thing here because it teaches students how to improve from their errors," said a student named Alexander, who got marked up for talking in class. "I really believe that."

Principal Phillip Wright said that under R.I.S.E., North Central had only two fistfights last year.

Students incur disciplinary marks for infractions ranging from chewing gum in class to dishonesty. The R.I.S.E. system kicks in when a student gets five infractions in a week.

The first time that happens, students are separated from their classmates during lunch and assemblies and have to wear white T-shirts. They get five days of instruction on their behavior and make daily visits to the principal.

If they get five infractions in a week for a second time, students can't talk to other students, participate in extracurricular activities or speak up in class, except for academic reasons. They have to wear red T-shirts.

Students who repeatedly get five infractions in a week can get in-school suspension.

The discipline isn't intended to be punishment, but tough love, the principal said.

"My parents showed me a ton of love but were also extremely direct and stern when I screwed up," Wright said. "That's the way I talk to the students when I cam checking in on them in the morning."

Students are offered the chance to earn their way out of discipline with good behavior: If they go five out of 10 days without getting an infraction, the disciplinary restrictions are lifted.

There's one final step, one that Wright says teaches students responsibility. Students must apologize to their classmates and explain why they are worthy of reuniting with them.

"I think the approach with the R.I.S.E. is that, 'Look, I care about you tremendously. I really want you to be successful. I'm not giving up on you,'" Wright said. "'But you, you've let me down. And you've let your classmates down and let your teachers down.'

"But each day is a new day to hold themselves responsible for their behavior.'"