Alternate suspension pays dividends

Rather than going home, students suspended from school head to a unique program that encourages a change in behaviour.

When local Grade 7 student Mariah Dann was caught fighting in school in May, she was immediately suspended. But instead of spending a leisurely few days with her assignments at home, the school sent her to a unique YMCA program.

Alongside a couple of other suspended students, Dann did her schoolwork in the mornings in a quiet room, and participated in workshops and group discussions in the afternoon. She watched educational videos, such as a YouTube one about the consequences of doing drugs, and spoke about what she wants to become when she’s older.

“It made me think about my life,” she said. “It made me think about the future in a different way.”

She walked away from her few days at the Y with a clearer perspective on the fight that got her suspended in the first place.

“I feel stupid for getting into a fight with a person when I could’ve just walked away,” said Dann. “It was kind of unnecessary starting a huge fight like that.”

Dann has since made amends, and said there is no longer tension at school.

Chilliwack was the first B.C. municipality to adopt the YMCA’s Alternative Suspension model three years ago, a program that began in Quebec in 1999. A national independent evaluation in 2005 found that 85 per cent of participating students improved in their attitudes and behaviours after the program in the short-term. Half still showed improvement in the medium-term.

About 250 Chilliwack students have passed through the program, which works by referral from the school.

Alternative Suspension is yet another response mechanism to crises in schools, explained assistant superintendent Rohan Arul-Pragasam. Although the program will remain a satellite from the Chilliwack school district, the district is shouldering an ever larger share of the annual $110,000 operating cost.

Students who are fighting, caught with drugs, or have excessive absenteeism, head to the Y for three to five days. In a group of no more than six, they get a rare opportunity to gain insight into their lives, something that traditional suspensions rarely accomplish.

“If it’s an in-school suspension, and they’re just sitting outside the principal’s office, there’s not that opportunity to reflect on behaviours,” said coordinator Shari West.

Similarly, at-home suspensions are too often mini-vacations.

Grade 11 student Zack Monahan was sent to the program three years ago when he was caught smoking pot on school grounds.

The week he spent in Alternative Suspension has changed his future, he said. Watching a video of people on East Hastings talking about drugs made Monahan realize that marijuana could lead him down the same path. He didn’t want to end up there.

Monahan plans to attend Abbotsford’s Summit Pacific College after graduation to train as a youth pastor.

Both Monahan and Dann said they got more of their schoolwork done at the Y than in their normal classes, a common consequence when students are put into smaller and quieter classrooms away from their regular peers.

“In the morning time, it’s six students in the room, it’s dead silent,” said West. “They’re focused on their work, they’re getting support where they need it, and they’re getting caught up. I’ve heard this from the schools themselves. They get more work done in our program than they would in a typical day at school.”

This means that students catch up to their regular classes, rather than continuing to fall behind, giving them yet another leg up in their education.

akonevski@theprogress.com
twitter.com/alinakonevski

Just Posted

A new sign was installed at St. Thomas Anglican Church on Saturday, June 5, 2021 in Chilliwack. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Community effort to install new sign at Chilliwack’s oldest church

‘We feel it’s a step in the right direction to bring the church up-to-date,’ says St. Thomas parishioner

Dennis Saulnier rescued his daughters, two-year-old Brinley (left) and four-year-old Keegan, after their truck was driven off the road and into Cultus Lake on May 16, 2020. Reporter Jenna Hauck has been recognized by the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspapers Association for her story on the rescue. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)
Chilliwack Progress, Hope Standard staff take home 7 Ma Murray awards

Jenna Hauck, Eric Welsh, Jessica Peters, Emelie Peacock all earn journalism industry recognition

A student prepares to throw a plate full of whipped cream at principal Jim Egdcombe’s face as vice principal Devin Atkins watches as part of a fundraiser at Leary Integrated Arts and Technology elementary on Friday, June 11, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
The pied principals: Chilliwack elementary staff get messy for charity

Cops for Cancer fundraiser saw kids ‘pie the principal’ at Leary elementary in Chilliwack

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Webinar looks at sexual abuse prevention among adolescents

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA hosts free online session on June 15

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month in Canada. (ADOBE STOCK IMAGE)
Shining a light on brain injury in Canada

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Most Read