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Handling discipline differently

When I was in high school I was called into ministry. God called me to be a teacher. Later on he called me to be an administrator. Now I am an assistant principal, and of course one of my responsibilities is handling student behavior and discipline.

When I think about the time of day that students are most likely to get in trouble at my school, it’s 7:15-7:30 a.m. That sounds pretty early in the morning considering the tardy bell doesn’t ring until 8:00. 7:15-8:00 a.m. is the time when our students are exiting the buses and waiting in line to eat breakfast. All students are welcome to ride the school bus and eat breakfast, but at my school those who do are typically the ones who are on free or reduced lunch and their parents don’t have the disposable income to drive their students to school or they don’t have a car.

Imagine getting up early in the morning, riding the bus with other students that haven’t eaten either, and then waiting in line for breakfast with other hungry students.

Last school year the line was so long that it stretched out the cafeteria and down the hall near the office. Often times students had a hard time waiting patiently to reach the front of the breakfast line. Students were in the office for being disrespectful to staff or cutting in line and the day was just getting started.

I probably handle discipline a bit differently than other principals because I have the privilege of knowing the grace that Jesus Christ extends to each one of us. I choose to use student conduct problems as opportunities to talk with students about who they want to be and how school can help them get there.

Last year the community provided many resources for our students. A nearby church adopted us for “Backpack Buddies,” a program that provides non-perishable food to families on the weekend when students aren’t able to eat breakfast and lunch at school. The residents of the neighborhood across the street adopted several students at Christmas. They were “Hidden Angels” who bought bicycles, toys, pajamas, and books for students, wrapped them and delivered them to our school counselor to be distributed to families that requested assistance. A retired teacher that lives in the neighborhood behind the school dropped off goodies for the office staff just about every holiday. She happens to be a member of my church which makes me extra proud to call her my friend.

These are just three examples of how the community loved our school.

With 650+ students, we hope that our community partners walk alongside us again this year.

This school year, I began my fourth year as an assistant principal, my twenty-first year as an educator in New Hanover County. Once again we opened the doors to greet students as they got off school buses, walked into the cafeteria and waited for breakfast. The breakfast line was shorter this week than last year. I hope that is an indication that families had the money to buy groceries and ate breakfast at home. The line always grows longer as the year progresses. I intentionally added more staff to “breakfast duty” this year. My hope is that with more supervision there will be more opportunities for our staff to talk with students, to build relationships, and to recognize when students are having a rough start to the day. We can’t control what students are going through when they aren’t with us at school but we can provide a warm breakfast, a friendly greeting, and a safe environment so that our students are ready to learn.

Janna Lennon

Janna Lennon is an assistant principal at H.C. Bellamy Elementary School in Wilmington. She is a member of First Baptist Church.