“…in the last couple of years we’ve seen drastic reductions in suspensions, other disciplinary actions, and incidents of disrespect. These improvements have everything to do with relationships…”

David Sparrow, Director of Behavioral Health, Building 21 Philadelphia

Earlier this month, David Sparrow and Building 21’s TriChange Model were featured on the Philadelphia Learning Collaborative blog. This final piece captures part III of our TriChange series.

This excerpt highlights preliminary outcomes to date and provides recommendations for schools thinking about this approach. While this model is young, Building 21 has positive outcomes and recommendations to share. This excerpt is reposted with permission from the Philadelphia Learning Collaborative.


“During the first year, things continued to be pretty chaotic,” Sparrow says, including significant numbers of suspensions. “But in the last couple of years we’ve seen drastic reductions in suspensions, other disciplinary actions, and incidents of disrespect.” Further, attendance is at an all-time high and the graduation rate for 2018-19 reached 88%, significantly higher than that for similar high schools in PA (71%), and for the school district (69%, for both district and alternative high schools).

“These improvements,” Sparrow believes, “have everything to do with relationships and with our school community buying into the Tri-Change Model and the culture it promotes. We’ve invested in staff training and hired more support staff, and the culture of our building has changed significantly for the better.”

Recommendations. Sparrow offers several recommendations for other schools interested in implementing integrated approaches to restorative practices, trauma-informed care, and cultural competence.

  • Investment from leadership is key.  The primary reason this work has been so successful at B21 is that senior leaders have bought into it and invested in training, new staff, and overall support for implementation. If leaders are not invested, it’s not going to work.

  • Designate a point person to lead the effort. Identify an individual with experience in restorative approaches and provide them with in-depth training (e.g., IIRC or other resources). Then, invest in a team of people and give them the authority to implement the model, taking into account the needs of faculty and administrators.

  • Ensure that school leaders model restorative approaches. Restorative approaches are not just focused on students but also extend to the ways that members of the school community interact with one another. As leaders begin to practice these techniques with staff, everyone in the school community can begin to see and understand the benefits.

  • Hold yourself accountable. Schools committed to this work must eventually ask themselves, what do we look for to determine if we’re truly being restorative, trauma-informed, and culturally competent? What do we need to do differently? Answering these questions will involve rigorous self-analysis, including reconsideration of policies, protocols, programs, and daily practices.

The real key to success, Sparrow says, is building relationships across the school community. “If a student knows they’re cared about, then it makes all the difference. Reach the person first, and then you can teach him or her anything.”