Let's Talk Program Aims to Disrupt School-to-Prison Pipeline

A group of students in uniform talk to a mediator.


Des Moines middle schools...have a program in place that focuses on mediation and conversation to address and resolve conflict.

...Community volunteers launched the Let's Talk program in three district middle schools eight years ago with one key objective: fix a system that disproportionately disciplines students of color, [Cheryl] Hayes, who's also a coordinator for the program, tells Axios.

The district has since expanded the program to nearly all of its 12 middle schools.

...Let's Talk is run by AMOS, a network of dozens of metro churches, neighborhood groups and community organizations.

The program helps students resolve conflicts peacefully, and ultimately aims to disrupt the "school-to-prison pipeline" — the link between punishments and the criminal justice system.

Inspiration for the restorative justice program came from "The New Jim Crow," a book about the U.S. legal system and how it has led to the mass incarceration of Black men, Hayes says.

...Volunteer mediators, such as retired judges, go into schools to help resolve student conflicts or other disciplinary issues through discussion.

Oftentimes, mediators help students work through home-life traumas that are a factor in problems surfacing at school, Hayes says.
Program facilitators also assist with cultural awareness training among district educators to help improve teaching and disciplinary practices.

...Hayes says organizers believe Let's Talk is a factor in why disciplinary referrals — generally those involving assaults or weapons — were down in grades 6-8 during the first four months of this school year.

...A research project is ongoing to better assess the project's full impact.

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