Los Angeles, CA

Referrals Drop Dramatically with Second Step Program

Los Angeles Second Step School Sees Dramatic Results

Principal John Sayers and Assistant Principal Nieves Rascón both came to Florence Griffith-Joyner Elementary in the fall of 2004. The school “is right in the middle of Watts” and across the street from Jordan Downs, the third largest public housing project in Los Angeles. About 90 percent of Griffith-Joyner’s 1,100 students live in the projects, and most of the students’ families face extreme economic hardship. “For them to survive in this type of community,” Rascón summarizes, “they had to fight their way through.” Sayers remembers that the school was “a place where learning took a back seat to survival.”

This survival instinct was reflected in the school’s discipline problems. That first year, Rascón was overwhelmed with office referrals for serious offenses. “I just felt like I was drowning. I was literally in my office all day, student after student. And it wasn’t just a fight; they brought a gun, they brought a bullet, they brought a condom. I had students on the floor. I had students in the corner of my office. I had students I had to drag in here because they were throwing a fit, students bringing a knife. I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into.”

I Wanted Some Results

So when Pupil Services and Attendance Counselor Mychelle Charters told Rascón that the school district had a Second Step Model Schools Program and suggested they try it, Rascón thought, “Why not? We’d tried everything. We had a discipline committee, and they were exhausted.” She was hoping Second Step would give the school the lifeline it needed. Rascón and Charters asked Principal Sayers about it, and he said, “I used to teach the Second Step program 20 years ago. Go ahead and follow up on it!” Rascón continues, “I didn’t know anything about it, but I wanted some results; I didn’t want to keep coming home crying.”

Getting Good Numbers

Rascón certainly got the results she was hoping for. She started the program in March of 2005—only three months before the end of the school year. “We had 559 referrals in three months. If you add that up for the school year, we were looking at 1,800.” After a full year of schoolwide Second Step implementation, that number had dropped to 499 for the ten-month school year. “It just kept decreasing by a hundred every year. So this year, our goal is to get to 150 or less. And it looks like it’s happening.” Principal Sayers says the program has even had an effect on attendance: “It is a very calm, safe environment. We have one of the highest attendance rates in the district because the students know they are safe.”

A Change in School Culture

But it’s not just the numbers that tell the story. Rascón says the school is simply a more pleasant place to be. “It’s because of Second Step that we have more opportunities to talk to students in a productive way instead of the only contact that we have is because they’re in the office or misbehaving in the yard. They’re just more conscientious of each other. There is no longer this culture of selfishness, this, ‘It’s mine. You don’t touch me. You don’t look at me.’ It’s not like that anymore. It’s really beautiful here.” And the students agree. Ten-year-old Juan Darce, a fourth-grader at Griffith-Joyner, says, “I like Second Step because if Second Step was not invented everyone would be violent and would fight.”

Children Feel Safer

Karen Sorensen, LAUSD’s Safe and Healthy Schools Facilitator and the founder of its Second Step Model Schools Program, recognizes Griffith-Joyner’s incredible growth: “Their school is a model Model School.” Rascón adds, “Bottom line, it’s because of Second Step this school is a really, really, really great place to be. The children feel safer.”