Think anew and act anew

A message from Executive Director Tom Roderick, Annual Report 2016

On November 7,  Morningside Center learned that we had been awarded a prestigious federal i3 (Investing in Innovation) grant to build skills, community, and equity in our schools. Our proposal for a Whole School Restorative Practices Project was one of 15 selected from the 385 received by the U.S. Department of Education. The grant will support four years of exciting action, innovation, and research.

On November 8,  we learned that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States.  Within days of the election, schools and communities began reporting incidents of hatred and bias by people who were apparently emboldened by Trump’s campaign rhetoric about building walls and banning Muslims, and his private boasts about grabbing women. In response, we did what we’ve always done at Morningside Center during hard times:  We came together to share our feelings and support each other, using the same techniques we use with educators and students. We recommitted ourselves to our mission to help build a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world. 
In collaboration with Muslim colleagues and friends, we began developing workshops and presentations for schools aimed at countering harassment of Muslim students. On our popular online teacher resource center,, now visited by hundreds of thousands of educators each year, we quickly posted an array of relevant lessons and activities. Our aim is to give educators tools to hone their own and their students’ critical thinking skills, strengthening their “shockproof crap detectors” to distinguish truth from blizzard of lies that are spreading confusion and poisoning political discourse. Going forward, we will lift up the stories of the masses of people—in and outside of the government—who are finding effective nonviolent ways to resist government policies that are racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and destructive to the environment. We will promote better understanding of the real needs of people across the political spectrum, and explore solutions that can address those needs.
The heart of our work remains in schools, where we collaborate with educators to foster caring, community, and equity, providing tools to make their schools safe, psychologically and physically, for everyone. Among our key programs is The 4Rs, our literacy-based SEL program, which reached nearly 9,000 students in grades pre-k to 5 last year.  We continue to develop and roll out CREW: Friends for the Journey, an SEL program for middle school students, and SEL Gold Nuggets, an innovative approach we are developing to enable school districts to scale up SEL. 
Much of our focus has been on restorative practices and our Restore360 Program, which reached well over 13,000 young people in 2015-16.  The federal i3 grant is a culmination of six years of work to bring restorative practices to hundreds of schools throughout NYC in partnership with the NYC Department of Education. School districts around the country have been introducing restorative practices (often called “restorative justice”), spurred in part by a call from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to move away from failed “zero tolerance” policies that lead to overuse of suspensions and feed “the school to prison pipeline.” 

With the i3 grant and with generous support from private foundations (the NoVo Foundation, Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, Trinity Wall Street Foundation, New York Community Trust, Jean and Louis Dreyfus Foundation, and the Charles Lawrence Keith and Clara Miller Foundation), we will continue to develop and test our “Whole School RP” model for 1) boosting students’ social and emotional skills, 2) building school communities based on collaboration, caring, fair treatment, and mutual respect, and 3) eliminating the disproportional targeting of Black, Latino, and LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities, for punitive discipline.

The Whole School RP model is distinctive in fully integrating two powerful strategies for improving education:
  • Social and emotional learning (SEL) to build community, create a positive school climate, reduce disciplinary incidents, and boost adults’ and students’ social and emotional competence, with emphasis on respecting people of other cultures and standing up to discrimination
  • Restorative practices (RP) to foster student voice and belonging and provide a powerful and effective educational alternative to punitive approaches when harmful behavior does occur

In addition to substantially improving outcomes for students in the 12 schools participating in the project, the Whole School RP Project aims to make a significant contribution to the growing body of research documenting the promise of SEL and RP, and to produce practical tools to help schools throughout NYC and beyond implement these practices effectively.
We are thrilled by this opportunity to bring our three decades of experience to bear on tackling one of the thorniest challenges in education: how to create truly equitable schools—schools that serve the needs of young people of color as well as white students. Strengthening relationships, developing social and emotional skills, holding young people accountable for misbehavior while keeping them in the community—these are, in themselves, positive steps for improving the life prospects for young people of color. Through the Whole School RP approach, we will go further to confront the reality of racism head-on by using our expertise in social and emotional learning to create spaces where educators can have courageous conversations about race, examine the impact of racism on the young people in their schools, create a vision of a truly equitable school, and work together make it a reality in their school. 
Among other things, this will mean transforming school discipline policies and differentiating curricula and teaching practices to address the needs and interests of all students. 
The stakes are high, for a nationwide movement to create equitable schools has to be a key part of the strategy for dismantling what Michelle Alexander argues is “The New Jim Crow”: the mass incarceration of young people of color. 
We are glad and grateful to be part of a huge and growing movement across the U.S. and the world that is finding new, powerful ways to resist oppression and stand for justice. As Abraham Lincoln said, a month before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” That is exactly what we intend to do. 

—Tom Roderick 

You can read the rest of the Annual Report here.