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Cloquet Alternative Ed Program Named School of the Year

Baihly Warfield
Created: February 21, 2018 06:27 PM

You may not hear much about them, but a Northland school was just named School of the Year. 

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The Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program was honored by the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs. That is partly in thanks to a "restorative practices" program they've been using for the past two years. 

Jeanette Olson, one of the teachers who helped start it, had doubts at first. But Olson said "it's amazing" they are now being honored with School of the Year out of 400 alternative ed programs in Minnesota.

"When I had my 'Aha!' moment, it was ... we need to do this because this does hold people accountable," Olson said. "And if we hold people accountable, then we can fix things and get beyond it."

Restorative practices involve getting the students in a circle on a daily basis, putting them face-to-face with their peers and teachers to build relationships and resolve conflicts. Cloquet is in its second year of the program. 

"We're really new, but some people when they talk restorative practices, they talk strictly circles. We use circles, restorative chats, conferencing," Olson said. 

She also hopes they'll move into using it for mediation eventually too. 

Olivia Martineau is one of the junior high participants. She said the best part of the restorative practices circles is getting to know her classmates, especially when it comes to conflict resolution. 

"We all get to express what we feel about it. And we get to know each other more about your history," Martineau said. "It feels better than holding a grudge to it."

Samantha Neufeld said as a junior, she likes to work with the middle school students. 

"It's a good way to help with conflict, whether it's good or bad," Neufeld said. "You always have a solution, everybody has a voice. I just feel like it's good for everybody."

Junior Clarence Gibson said it's a way to deal with issues before they get worse. 

"It could be fighting, drama, just the typical stuff that goes on in high school," Gibson said. 

But staff want it to be a positive experience too. Restorative practices trainer Laraine Mickelson said they aim for 80 percent building community and relationships and 20 percent conflict resolution.

And Olson said she has seen students taking more responsibility. 

"Out-of-school suspension, in-school suspension does not work. It doesn't fix the problem," Olson said. "They go do their punishment, and they come back. It's all over, but it doesn't change the behavior. Whereas if they have to repair the harm that's done, they have to be held accountable for it."

As far as the School of the Year award, junior Abby Rachel said it's neat to be recognized on a statewide level. 

"We go to school here, and we don't think it's noticed that big," Rachel said. 

On Wednesday, the whole CAAEP school participated in a Celebration Circle to congratulate them on being School of the Year. 

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Baihly Warfield

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