At A. Quinn Jones Exceptional Student Center, every student uses seventh period for social-emotional learning.
Designed to help reduce bullying, the class is the first regularly scheduled class of its kind in Gainesville.
Students take the time to learn how to better communicate with peers and resolve social conflicts through self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation and social skill building.
Implementing the social-emotional learning class is one of the many ways the City of Gainesville and River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding (RPCP) are hoping to combat bullying and community violence.
During October, the center hopes to bring awareness to programs and methods designed to reduce bullying as part of Community Peacebuilding Month, culminating in a March for Peace on Oct. 21. In its third year, RPCP hopes to include bullying under the umbrella of violence it fights.
This past year, 1 in 5 students reported being bullied at school, while just more than 14 percent report being bullied online, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These students are at a greater risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse, according to the CDC. Often times, the bullied students become bullies themselves, hitting their parents or friends, said Jeffrey Weisberg, Executive Director of RPCP.
RPCP hopes to help embed the aspects of restorative justice, such as the social-emotional learning program that A. Quinn has adopted, into most Alachua County schools within the next year.
The program uses the ARISE curriculum, which has been independently evaluated to have a positive effect on student’s self-confidence, grades, behavior and ability to identify with others when it has been used outside of Gainesville.
A. Quinn Vice Principal Anntwanique Edwards said she feels the program is necessary in her school, but will wait to evaluate its effectiveness until the end of the year.
“I think the program addresses the needs of the population to help them develop in a positive manner, which allows them to be successful in multiple settings,” she said. “It’s very important to invest in that.”
Alachua County School Board Vice Chair Eileen Roy said the program is an experiment, enacted in part to try to ease friction upon the combination of A. Quinn and Horizon Center Alternative School.
RPCP has worked with both Kanapaha and Howard Bishop middle schools to embed similar programs based on the schools’ needs. They have also trained teachers in social-emotional learning at Gainesville High School.
“What we’re trying to do is take the punitive model and turn it over and make it restorative,” said Heart Phoenix, president of RPCP.
Phoenix said she realized the need to include this social-emotional learning curricula into schools in 2012, when two girls at Gainesville High School posted a racist video online, bullying black kids for stereotyped speaking styles. In return, the girls received inevitable online hate, which their parents felt constituted bullying itself.
RPCP was called in as crisis control.
“It just alarmed the schools,” said Phoenix. “[Bullying] leads to much more serious things. And it’s serious enough – to be afraid to go to school, to be afraid to walk down the streets alone.”
Using a new method of “restorative justice,” the center teamed up with PACER to lead the mothers of one of the girls, the school’s principal, and representatives of the African American community in productive conversation about the incident.
“We think that violence or conflict in all forms can be diminished by learning how to communicate,” said Weisberg.