Ardmore Middle School rolled out a new alternative to traditional suspensions this year, and so far, parents and students have responded positively.
Suspension Alternative Learning Tool, or SALT, was a creation of assistant principal John Black and AMS’ Behavior Interventionists Regina Benson and Stephanie Hacker. The program brings a student’s parents and teachers together to help a student learn from their mistakes instead of repeating them.
“Kids are always worth the time,” Hacker said. “We’re here to support families, we want them to be strong and we want children to be successful. We’re willing to put in whatever efforts it takes to make that happen.”
The student and their parents can choose to replace a traditional suspension with the SALT program. For every day of suspension, the student has two days to complete their SALT lessons. Kids will have SALT homework to do and will need to dedicate time to the lessons, but the program keeps students from missing class when they get in trouble.
“If we continued to suspend, suspend, suspend, we’d be on a wheel like a hamster,” Black said. “I think we’re taking a step toward being able to see kids just one time, and hopefully eliminate it to zero times. It’s going to be very beneficial and every parent has loved the program so far.”
So far, the team has handled 38 SALT cases. Of them, only 8 percent of students have gotten in trouble a second time. Black said some parents have opted out of SALT, mostly due to the time the program requires. Benson said parents often learn from the program too, giving them a chance to defuse emotional situations at home.
Benson and Hacker have known each other and worked together for over 20 years. They said their collective experience in behavioral health and their strong, longstanding work relationship help them put together the program and keep it running despite the challenges it presents.
“They’re always going to get attention, positive or negative, and this is a way to give positive attention after a negative experience and hopefully minimize the amount of negative the student experiences at school,” Benson said.
Black said in many cases, students are dealing with heavy burdens outside of school, whether it’s poverty, trauma or tragedy, that bleeds into their school lives. Once parents, teachers and the student are all in the same room, helping them becomes easier.
“In education, a lot of times, we act short-sighted and we think students know how to behave, and sometimes they actually don’t,” Black said. “We have to teach them that.”
Hacker said the curriculum the school uses for SALT comes from The Good Samaritan Boys Ranch, a residential campus in Springfield, Missouri that provides counseling and other resources for children who’ve experienced abuse and neglect.
SALT lessons are meant to help the students learn to resist peer pressure, regulate their own emotions and avoid getting into trouble a second time. Black said it seems to be paying off, as very few students get suspended a second time.