From the moment you enter Hinkley High School, you experience its “Culture of Care.” The supportive environment for students and staff underpins much of the school’s success in meeting its students’ needs and creating a safe place to learn.
Located in Aurora, Colorado in one of the Denver metro area’s lowest resource neighborhoods, Hinkley serves a student population that is 93.5 percent students of color and over 80 percent free or reduced lunch. The student body has a mobility rate of 20 percent and 68 percent of students speak languages other than English at home with 33 percent receiving specific English language instruction.
Hinkley’s principal, Dr. Matthew Willis, pointed to an 80 percent decline in aggressive behaviors at the school and one of the lowest rates, among all Colorado high schools, in disciplinary referrals per student. It wasn’t always that way. As we came to know this school, we saw two elements in particular that create the foundation for its healthy culture.
The first element is restorative justice, which is used when disputes arise involving students or staff. In speaking with teachers, we learned that significant efforts to incorporate restorative practices in the classroom radically improved the school culture. Everyone who teaches and learns at Hinkley participates. Using a systematic, restorative approach to discipline and classroom interactions has significantly reduced behavioral referrals, suspensions, and expulsions.
When we asked students asked about bullying, we were told, “that doesn’t happen here.” Other students described widespread support for LGBTQIA students. When we asked students what they would do if witnessing someone being bullied, students readily answered, “RJ” (restorative justice).
The second key element of Hinkley’s “Culture of Care” is its commitment to professional support and collaboration. As part of their exemplary professional development, the teachers form Professional Learning Teams, which are organized by grade and content areas. The teams support new teachers, review common classroom assessments, share lesson plans for feedback, and align course content. PLTs also support teams of special education, English language acquisition, and content area teachers as they develop inclusion-focused co-teaching strategies.
Hinkley High School staff members regularly ask themselves, “What are we doing to meet the needs of all kids?” By following through, they have made impressive progress in establishing a safe, welcoming environment and providing strong learning opportunities for their students and staff.