One principal describes how volunteers helped lay the foundation for the school's path forward.
Walk into the cafeteria at Napier Elementary and you will find a 10-foot tree constructed by a group of volunteers.
But this is no ordinary tree – according to Napier Elementary Principal Dr. Watechia Lawless, it is the focal point for her school’s positive path forward.
“The resolution tree is the center of our restorative justice program, “Dr. Lawless said. “It has transformed the culture of our school.”
“The resolution tree is a way for us to resolve conflict with students that would have usually resulted in suspension,” she continued. “It provides a place for students to articulate feelings, and say ok, ‘There‘s another way to do this than fighting."
The tree was constructed in an afternoon by a team of volunteers from Competitive Carriers Association visiting Nashville for a conference in the April 2016.
According to Dr. Lawless, the tree represent a shift away from a punitive system, in which students are suspended or taken out of the classroom for negative behavior, to one focused on peer-to-peer conflict resolution.
"If students don’t feel loved and safe, they won’t learn. And if we don’t train them how to resolve conflict they will go back to what they know. We have to train them on the appropriate ways to deal with conflict... Hopefully these skills will prepare them for life, and not just for a test or to do well here: we want them to do well when they leave here."
Beyond constructing the tree, the group revitalized the playground, enhanced the landscape with flowers and mulch, painted murals with the schools vision statements, assembled classroom care kits, and created learning tools for students.
“This project with Hands On Nashville actually set the foundation for the changes we wanted to see – not only with the vision to have visual statements throughout the building, but it set the path forward for the Napier way," Dr. Lawless continued. "We’ve worked hard to transform the way people feel when you come here and that made a huge difference.”
"It was a breath of fresh air to know people were supportive of us and our goals," she said.
Since the project, the centerpiece has since inspired resolution trees to be placed in nearly every single classroom, as well as one outside for our students and community members to use.