New Student Advocacy Class Offers Alternatives to Suspensions


Ashley Calderon

This school year, SRHS offered a new elective class to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Taught by social studies teacher Alexandra Verheecke, Student Advocacy is designed to benefit the community. “It’s not going to solve everything but we’re going to try to make things better,” said Verhekee.

The class hopes to solve disciplinary problems on campus while avoiding suspensions and conventional forms of punishment. Working with Youth Transforming Justice, Ms.Verheecke wants to give students better opportunities to fix mistakes without making their lives more difficult or creating more issues. Youth Transforming Justice is a non-profit organization that runs Peer Solutions for Marin County schools. YTJ has come in for a retreat to prepare and train this classroom for cases on which they will soon take action. “Even if it’s only a few cases, I hope we can achieve that throughout this year and make it bigger in subsequent years,” said Verheecke. She and the students have a lot of hope that they can change attitudes at school. “Another goal is to end the school-to-prison pipeline,” added Verheecke.

“Many students are getting suspended and that leads to juvie and prison later in life. I think we need to stop it now and it has a great message that it’s giving,” said Reilly DeGraff, a senior at San Rafael High School. Many students have not gotten this opportunity in the past so now this class will offer a chance to the students of SRHS.

The idea of this class came to Verheecke when students kept asking for a class to be able to help other peers. “With my collective awakening around racial injustice after George Floyd and police violence, I started to learn more about restorative justice,” said Verheecke.

The students participating say they are very excited and eager to start taking cases.

“I like the class so far. I just want to start on the actual work. I’m really excited to actually be having cases and feel like I’m making an impact because so far it’s been a lot of training,” said Elena Hoeh, a senior at SRHS.

“There are other projects we can do that’s why it’s called Student Advocacy because it’s not just restorative justice, there are other projects we will be working on,” said Talia Harter, a senior at SRHS.

“They’re really amazing. Everyone in the class is capable of being empathetic to other students’ situations, taking it really seriously,” said Verhekee about her students.

Students think Verheecke is doing a good job.

“It’s really a new class, so she’s learning with us as we go too,” said Harter.

“She cares a lot and that’s what really matters,” said Hoeh. “She’s really invested in this class and the curriculum, she’s been doing a good job for sure.”

The students are working hard to get to know each other well and feel comfortable.“ We’re doing a lot of community-building work and making sure that we understand each other and our perspectives,” said Verheecke. This is to help her students communicate comfortably regardless of their differences and background.

“She’s helping us get to know each other doing all these icebreakers and stuff, while we’re also starting to get this work done and the training especially,” said Harter.

Although Reilly was very excited and liked the class, she did drop it because she felt as if there wasn’t any action being done, just preparation.

Hoeh thinks the focus on studying inequalities and injustice within a school is helpful, not to mention the practical benefit of getting students out of suspensions. “I’m really interested in advocacy work,” she said. “I think this can help me look at advocacy through a new lens and see how affecting kids at a young age helps alter their course.”