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The school-to-prison pipeline is a very real issue facing minority students today. Various studies have been done and show that there is implicit bias in how some students, particularly those from African-American backgrounds, are disciplined in the public education system. About 70 percent of students arrested or taken to law enforcement over incidents in school are children from Hispanic or African-American backgrounds. Black students are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than their White peers. There are plenty of other statistics that show these disparities, which often result in these students not receiving a quality education, sometimes never even finishing high school.

The school-to-prison pipeline creates a cycle that labels these students as an issue for law enforcement, making it more likely they’ll serve prison time, which affects their abilities to later find good jobs and support themselves or their families. This cycle often continuously leads to crime later in life or unnecessary prison sentences because these students have been unfairly labeled at a young age and had their future options taken away from them. However, there are ways that educators can work with students to help prevent the school-to-prison pipeline from continuing. Read on to find out some ways teachers can help their students work toward a better future and not become one of these statistics.

Examine your own biases

Before attempting to help out students, it’s important to examine any biases you may have as an educator. Do you treat certain students differently based on their backgrounds? While you might not realize it, many people have unconscious biases that come through in their treatment of students or how they discipline. For real change, start in your own classroom and make sure you’re treating all of your students fairly and are not being overly harsh.

Speak up when you see something

If you see another teacher or the school you work at unfairly disciplining a student, say something. Speak up and explain how you think the student could benefit from another form of discipline instead of being suspended or expelled. It’s important to work on helping students understand how to change their behavior instead of punishing them by disrupting their educations.

Get involved in educational activism

There are plenty of organizations across the country focusing on helping students escape the school-to-prison pipeline. You can possibly find a group in your local area or connect online with other educators dedicated to ending this cycle. One of the best steps you can take as an educator is to spread awareness about this issue and get other people talking about it. Talk about the school-to-prison pipeline and ways teachers can help end it. The more people know, the greater the improvement we’ll see.

Manage more issues yourself

For teachers who have pushed back against zero-tolerance policies and instead work on their own to manage classroom issues and discipline, there’s been a 20 percent reduction of out of school suspensions. It’s time for teachers to step up and begin handling more minor issues in their classrooms on their own instead of immediately referring students to a higher authority or an in-school law enforcement official. In some schools, students are referred for dress code violations, minor talking back, or using their cellphones in class. These are issues teachers themselves could handle instead of the student being suspended for them.

Focus on preparing for the future

Finally, work with your students to look toward the future and set goals. Many students believe they are on the school-to-prison pipeline and see it as their inevitable future. Help students change this mindset by encouraging them to look at further education, what jobs they’d like to have, or what kind of life they want to have in 5-10 years. If you can get your students excited and planning for the future, they’ll work harder to change any behavioral issues that could get them suspended or expelled. Giving them hope is a great way to fight the school-to-prison pipeline.