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Richmond school has students cleaning cafeteria, picking up trash

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – An 18-year-old who skipped class at Huguenot High School is getting a hard lesson in school discipline.

“I didn’t like the class and I had the attitude that I didn’t want to be here, so I wanted to stop,” Deja Hopson said.

Now, instead of getting a five-day suspension for violating school policy, Hopson is learning what it means to do community service.

Hopson and some of her classmates are working along a custodian to clean hallways, make the school cafeteria gleam and pick up trash around the school grounds.

“I would’ve missed school and I’m a senior, so I would’ve missed my core classes,” Hopson. “It would’ve been a hard time to make up five days of work.”

Hopson’s punishment is part of a pilot program called Community Restorative Service at Huguenot High School to decrease the number of school Suspensions.

“We have high expectations here at Huguenot,” Huguenot High School Principal Jafar Barakats said. “We want to keep our kids in school. This is a work in progress.”

Barakat, who spent 12 years in alternative education, said the alternative suspension program at Huguenot targets first-time student offenders who cut class, use their cell phones in school and are disruptive in the classroom.

Barakat said since the program started in October, 95 percent of the behavioral Infractions have resulted in out-of-school suspensions from Oct. 6, 2011 to Feb. 12, 2012. That’s  compared to 76-percent for the same period this school year.

Barakat said that amounts to  a 19-percent decrease in suspensions across the school.

“We don’t want them sitting home on a suspension, but they also have to be held accountable for their behavior,” Barakat said. “So it’s a win-win situation for us.”

Parents like Letitia Ford agree and said it encourages children.

“Sometimes there’s a backwards, negative mentality,” she said. “You can tell children that you’re not going to be this, you’re not going to be that. Why not encourage them first?”

As for Hopson, she has this message for her classmates who break the rules: “Don’t do it. Please don’t do it. Don’t do it at all! It’s not fun.”

Barakat said he’s working with administrators to expand the program across the district.

“I think it’s an important piece in developing a sense of humility about the behavior you’re engaged in,” Barakat said.