Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma has historically gotten a bad rap when it comes to student suspensions, but now the faculty is trying a new approach to teach kids a better way out of those situations.

“I have to own, unfortunately, this year 24 percent of my kids have already been suspended,” Principal Christine Brandt said. “That’s the highest of any middle school in the district.”

Brant came in as principal four years ago to try to boost morale and school test scores. Brandt said she realized high suspension rates and student performance go hand in hand

“Every time a kid is out of school, that’s learning lost. If they’re suspended, they’re not in school their grades get affected, and you can see the tumbling affect that usually happens.”

Brandt applied for dozens of grants and was recently awarded a three-year, $141,000 grant from College Spark Washington to train teachers and staff on a conflict resolution model called Restorative Justice. It’s a non-punitive approach where teachers and staff work with students. They have face-to-face conversations with the person who wronged them in a safe environment instead of being suspended or expelled.

“The goal really is to not have kids out of school and figure out a way that, again, when we make mistakes, how do we hold them responsible but also how do we repair it but then get them back into class," Brandt said.

School leaders have already tried similar model on a small scale called Make it Right which helped 7th grader Antonette Goolsby and 8th grader Svea Bronstad. They were in a group of young girl, middle school drama that was heading toward violence and a suspension. But it was settled in a circle with students and staff.

“All of the girls that had drama came together, and they sat down and expressed their feelings that’s how me and Svea became friends again,” Goolsby said.

“They’re going to lead our country, and we know that, and we want to empower them to make sure they hall all the skills that they can,” Brandt said.