JCPS, VOA Launch Restorative Justice Program for Elementary Students, Families

Goal is keeping youngest kids out of trouble   

December 28, 2021 – Elementary school students with behavior issues in school can wind up on an unwanted path to problems in future grades or even legal trouble. A Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) pilot project with Volunteers of America (VOA) is designed to intercede with those children and their families before the child heads down that path.

The Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence awarded VOA a two-year, $150,000 grant for the VOA Restorative Justice Project. The project will provide case managers for up to 75 students from five JCPS elementary schools – Blake, Mill Creek, Semple, Shacklette and Hawthorne. 

Students who have received disciplinary referrals from their school will be assigned a case manager who will conference with the student, their family and school staff to redirect the student on a road to success instead of further behavioral issues.

“This initiative is different than anything we’ve ever done before, and will be a game changer for some of our most at-risk students,” said Dr. Katy DeFerrari, JCPS assistant superintendent of Climate and Culture. “Early intervention is something that we’ve always focused on. What is different about this pilot is the addition of wrap-around support and case management from a community partner that has access to a broader scope of resources, including those that support non-school age caregivers and family members. Often, our students acting out as a result of trauma and stress have other environmental factors impacting them. This partnership with Volunteers of America provides students and families a ‘one-stop’ support network.”

DeFerrari added that students struggling with behavior and choice-making at a young age often face barriers to successful transitions and academic achievement. The lost instructional time or disengagement from school that could result from repeated behavior consequences can be detrimental to a student’s success, she said. 

The VOA has been taking referrals from the local juvenile justice system since 2011 and has a strong track record of helping kids with their self-confidence and proactive actions to keep themselves out of further trouble. The JCPS program is similar but will involve the entire family.

“Sometimes when children experience problems in school, the relationships between the school and the families become frayed,” said Libby Mills, senior director at Volunteers of America Mid-States. “We hope to establish processes and implement support services that will help rebuild the relationships between the child and family and the school staff.  Many times the parents cannot address the issues the child is dealing with alone and the school cannot do it alone either.  It is very important that we find ways to reconnect the school and the families so the children have the best chance of being successful at school and at home.”