SCS Reset rooms push pause on traditional punishment, reduces suspension rates

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — With colorful lights and board games in one corner and punching bag and gloves in another, this is not your average classroom.

Those are the items you’ll find in the new reset room at Geeter K-8 school in Memphis.

It’s a place where students can take a moment to regroup, refocus and reset their attitude after an outburst or disruption in class.

“Our suspension rates were higher than what we wanted them to be but we noticed we weren’t doing a lot of build our students up,” said Eric Harris, Principal at Geeter K-8.

Principal Harris said they created this reset room as a new alternative to punitive punishment last fall.

“We’ve moved toward restorative justice practices, we’re more interested in the why, why is a student behaving this way and also, what can we do to help them make a better choice next time,” he said.

Harris said when a student is being disruptive in class, a teacher can call for a reset and that’s when a behavioral specialist will come to the class and assess the situation.

One of those behavioral specialists is Deidre Pryor. She said she knows about half of the 650 students at Geeter by name, a small gesture that makes a big difference in the reset process.

“A lot of them have their guard ups up on so many levels with things that are going on and building a relationship with them is so important and it makes it easier when you have a relationship with them,” said Pryor.

Pyror said a reset is sometimes a quick 10-15 minute walk in the hallway to talk about what happened.

“So I ask them what’s going on, what’s the problem and my main thing is getting them to be honest about what they did or what the reset was called on. And once we talk about what the problem was, we move to a resolution,” she said.

Other times, a reset is much longer and spent time in the reset room. It has areas to calm down and to think along with motivational messages.

After six months, Harris said he’s noticed a significant difference in the student body.

“We have ones who we call our high flyers and they had the most behavioral incidents probably last year and probably going this year but now, they come back different,” said Harris. “And they have a different mentality and some of have become leaders in their homerooms and it makes a big difference before they see the change that this student made and they want to be a part of it as well.”

The proof is in the punishment or the lack of it. During the 2018-2019 school year, Geeter handed down 1,008 in and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.

During the first half of this school year, there were only 86 in and out of schools suspensions and expulsions.

“They’re becoming a lot of more open with us because they truly understand ‘Hey if something goes on I’m going to get a consequence and I have to face up to my consequence but I’m really going to get some assistance in making it better’ and they understand what the impact of their decision is on the whole,” said Harris.

For students with multiple resets and incidents, Harris said they started the “Level Up” program.

Instead of a lengthy suspension, Harris says these students are working in small groups with behavioral specialists on a daily basis until they’re ready to go back into the classroom.

“So by the time they’re done with the level up program, they’re a completely different person, a completely different student because they truly understand the impact of their behavior, they have a work ethic about themselves and they’re able to work independently because we really drill them on that,” he said.

The Shelby County School district launched 30 reset rooms across several elementary, middle and high schools last fall.