Every Student Succeeding: Help Is on the Way

Kassan Ortiz Farrakhan went from being a troubled student to a model student, working through issues of anger and alienation from a young age.

“Kassan is a true model of every student succeeding and pushing through many obstacles that were placed in the way of his achievement,” said Jeff Varner, principal of Parkside Elementary.

When Varner met Kassan, he was a kindergartener who had been removed from school for attacking his teacher. From the start, Kassan had disciplinary issues, but the counseling and administrative team at Pittsburg Unified School District began to work with Kassan, his family and the team at Parkside.

“We’ve just sort of given him and surrounded him with all that he’s needed,” said Angela Stevens-Stevenson, principal at Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High in Pittsburg. “Spending the time with his counselors has been tremendous as well.”

Kassan was placed in Pittsburg USD’s Counseling Enrichment Program, which provides small classes supported by behaviorists and psychologists. The focus is to work with students that are a danger to themselves or others in a mainstream classroom, providing tools to work through high-stimulation situations when around others. With resources to understand his own behavior, respect others and make different choices, Kassan was returned to mainstream classes in his second grade year.

Varner credits Parkside’s commitment to Restorative Justice for helping students like Kassan. “[We use] Restorative Justice techniques in all of our behaviors,” he said. “The main point of discipline is to change a behavior. We believe in giving a child a voice and listening to why a choice was made, whether it was [a] positive or a negative choice.

“We need to find the underlying reason why the choice was made, address it and give the child alternatives if they find themselves in that situation again,” he continued.

From an elementary career involving more than 12 pages of disciplinary action, including attacks on teachers and other students, Kassan has transitioned to junior high without any incidents.

“I saw them believe in me a lot,” Kassan said. “So I wanted to try harder in school. I don’t fight anymore. After all of it, I’ve just been calm.”

Now in middle school at Martin Luther King, Jr. Junior High, Kassan has participated in the school’s anti-bullying task force and other community service activities. No longer a “problem student,” acting out of frustration and anger, Kassan has transformed into an engaged and ambitious young man.

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