How a youth liason is reducing school suspensions

As she sat in her small office located in the far corner of the Tecumseh Middle School library, Emily Kraska explained how since she became the school's youth liaison, student suspensions and expulsions have decreased.

Kraska said the students she assists on a daily basis are in the third tier of Tecumseh's "Three Tiered System" for discipline, or in her words, students who are having "the most trouble."

"These students really pick up the tools I teach them, like new ways of communicating and interacting with their peers and teachers," she said. "They are very open to these new ideas; they're like little sponges. Sometimes they just need more focus on developing those tools."

Kraska works with students on aggression, anger, verbal skills and dealing with general emotions and difficult situations.

Les Huddle, Lafayette School Corp. superintendent, said the idea for a youth liaison came to the corporation at a conference two years ago regarding school discipline.

"Judge Faith Graham, Rebecca Humphrey — who is the director for the Cary Home for Children — and I initially came up with this idea hoping to find a way to avoid school expulsions," Huddle said. "Ultimately we are trying to find a way to prevent anything before something has a chance to happen."

He said that by doing this early on at the middle school level, students will be young enough that it has a lasting effect on them.

Tecumseh Principal Brandon Hawkins said the idea originally began with a probation officer being stationed at the school in August 2015, but after believing that this wasn't the fitting solution they were looking for the school corporation enlisted in the help of an employee from the Cary Home for Children.

"We changed the title from 'Officer Liaison' to 'Youth Liaison' and Emily was familiar with a lot of the same services but had a little bit of a different take on since she wasn't a probation officer but instead a service provider," Hawkins said. "So this program really took off with Emily back in January 2016."

The services students would normally receive after an arrest are placed at the front of the "chain events" rather than waiting until the disciplinary situation reaches the point in which the student is leaving the school in handcuffs, according to Hawkins.

"I have noticed kids who you would see some kind of recidivism where they would continue to fight and now those kids when you deal with them and they start to get riled up, you're able to say, 'Let's talk about some of the strategies you worked with Miss Emily on,' " he said. "The kids will then go on and are able to start verbalizing those skills they have worked on, so it makes you feel good knowing that there is a visible difference in this student and that they can handle these situations on their own."

While it is early to judge any numbers from the liaison implement, Kraska said only one student from Tecumseh has had to turn to alternative schooling and there have been no arrests so far this year.

"You want the kids to be at Tecumseh as long as possible and if they do have to go someplace else to 'get themselves together,' you want them to be able to come back and be confident in that they can come back with the skills to be successful," Kraska said. "You can't just have a 13-year-old not going to school for a whole year. That isn't going to help them at all."

She said she believes all schools could benefit by having a youth liaison present on the campus and hopes others will see the change it instills.

"All kids everywhere are dealing with trauma and hard stuff for them," Kraska said. "It benefits us to meet them where they're at, because we are trying to build productive adults and that all starts when they're young."


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