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Relationships First

Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush, Philadelphia, PAArts Academy at Benjamin Rush, Philadelphia, PA

The Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush High School is a public magnet school in the School District of Philadelphia. Rush hired a Climate Manager who focuses on keeping a stable climate by supporting social and emotional learning and facilitating difficult conversations. He introduced Relationships First (RF), which is Philadelphia’s restorative justice framework created by the Office of Climate & Culture. RF is a human-centered philosophy and prevention/intervention strategy aligned to the Multi-tiered System of Supports. RF is focused on building strong, safe, loving relationships, disrupting and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, and increasing positive academic outcomes through community-building, healing, and restoration.

Philadelphia assigned a Relationships First coach to Rush. The coach met with staff, visited classrooms, talked to students, and assisted with discipline matters involving students. Then the Relationships First coach began training a group of 35 students on Tier 1, Community Building Circles. This core group of 35 RF youth leaders were trained in circle-work. During their development as youth coaches, students started to create community and relationships that supported each other’s needs.

Once these students were trained, Rush implemented a full day of Relationships First Social-Emotional Learning during advisory periods. The students led circle work and social emotional learning activities. Since taking over leading circle work on campus, RF has expanded to 60 youth leaders across all four grade levels.

There is also a cohort of teachers and administrators who co-lead the work with the youth. The goal is that next year Student Relationships First Coaches will lead this work in all advisories and build an even larger student-led RF team. Within six months, Rush Arts has become the model high school for RF work in the Philadelphia School District.