It was late fall, Alli had only been attending SVS for a few months when we heard that she had been "brought up" for one of the most serious offenses at her school - walking out on the frozen pond before it was deemed safe to do so.
When a student at SVS makes a mistake by violating one of the school rules, another child who witnesses the error will fill out a form to report it, this is known around the school as "bringing someone up." When someone is brought up the report is read before a committee of students known as the JC. Members of the JC are elected students as well as randomly selected students who serve as a jury of peers. Because of the nature of Alli's mistake and because of her young age (5 years old), she was assigned a staff member to support and guide her through the process. Her offense was deemed extremely serious because in the worst case scenario it could have literally taken her life, and as such the JC decided her case needed to be presented at Community Meeting before a decision about how to handle it could be made.
As any parent new to SVS would most likely feel, I was terrified. I was of course upset with Alli for walking on the pond when it was dangerous, but I was also very worried about how she would handle being the focus of such an important meeting. My experience with public education swirled around in my mind as I tried to make sense of what would happen to her at those meetings and afterwards. Would she be picked on? Bullied by other students? Would she feel hurt or put down for her mistake? My defenses crept into my mind, she was after all only five years old...who would look out for her?
Unable to be there myself because I was traveling that week, I insisted my husband attend the Community Meeting despite the staff at SVS strongly suggesting that we not do so. I was so moved by what transpired that my appreciation for the model of schooling at SVS deepened tenfold.
At the Community Meeting, which is open to any and all students who would like to attend, it was voted on and decided that Alli would be suspended for one day from school, and that Alli and her parents must meet with the student leader of the committee and Alli's support staff member before she could return. They also assigned the most thoughtful consequence I have ever heard in the two decades I have worked in education. It was explained to us that Alli would not be allowed behind the school where the pond was located until after February's school vacation, which was three months away. After discussing what had happened the Community of students who attended the meeting that day felt that Alli needed a long enough penalty to ensure that she would never make this mistake again, but also that she needed to be able to get onto the frozen pond with the other students once it was safe and before the winter was over. The Community was concerned that if Alli was denied the opportunity to skate on the pond with the other students all winter long that she could develop a fear of the pond, and they did not want that to happen.
I was so amazed by these young students and their careful deliberation. Any concerns I had about the student run JC, or how mistaken behavior would be handled were washed from my mind that day. I have known very few adults who would have taken the time and steps to be so reflective. Certainly in the numerous public schools where I have worked no such process would have been followed or even considered.
While my interest in and appreciation for the student body at SVS started on that first visit to the school, my respect for the student body at SVS began that day.