“We have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to physical or verbal violence and cyber bullying,” said [Kelly] Davenport, whose Philadelphia middle and high school provides a 100 percent nonviolent, safe learning environment for underserved, urban students in grades 5-12.
This policy isn’t limited to the classroom. If a Freire student acts violently anywhere — whether on the street or on a subway — he or she will be expelled. No second chances.
“We use words rather than fists to settle conflicts,” Davenport said. “Students even receive mediation training from PaxUnited.”
When conflict arises, students are free to take any student — or teacher — to mediation. The process is monitored by a peer mediator and results in a contract. If the contract is broken, a more senior mediator, usually an adult, is called in.
Creating a peaceful environment has paid off for Davenport. Ninety-four percent of the 2013 graduating class headed straight to college. The same year, U.S. News and World Report placed Freire on their “Best High Schools” list.
“We have high expectations,” Davenport said. “We expect every student to graduate, and we expect every graduate to attend a four-year college.”
In a city where public schools are plagued by a high dropout rate, these aspirations are out of reach for the majority of students. Freire not only sends it graduates off to top colleges, it makes sure they have the financial aid they need. The Class of 2014 earned an average of $59,665 per student in scholarships.
“We not only help students get into college, we make sure they stay there,” said academic adviser Chris Moore. “We guide them toward colleges that offer students the support they need.”