Middle Childhood Collaborative

Academic Co-LeadJames P. Huguley, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, chair of the Race and Youth Development Research Group at the Center on Race and Social Problems, University of Pittsburgh

Community Co-Lead: Vanessa Mayers-Snyder

Community Research Coordinator:  Michele Leyshon School of Social Work, University of Pittsburgh

The Just Discipline Project is disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline by increasing strong relationships to yield safer schools, improved academic outcomes, and reduced contact with criminal justice systems for youth.

The suspension rate for Black students in Allegheny County was over seven times the rate for non-Black students. In over 70% of Allegheny County districts, the rate of Black student suspensions was at least double that of non-Black students.

The Just Discipline Project is a Restorative Justice and culture-building programming that addresses the school-to-prison pipeline. We are working on a blueprint for equitable discipline practices in our region by using restorative climate models and leveraging lessons learned for capacity-building to engage more like-minded schools, districts, and programs. Our efforts also serve to influence policy and shift the actions of policymakers to support systemic change.

Studies have shown that suspensions are associated with negative academic outcomes at the student and school levels. These effects further limit youth capacity for future success, individually and collectively. Moreover, these suspension rates have severe consequences for our already problematic racial inequities in the Greater Pittsburgh region. The Just Discipline Project supports teachers, students, and staff to build stronger, more authentic relationships to reduce the need for exclusionary discipline in schools.

By using a trauma-informed approach, we shift the paradigm from asking, “What is wrong with you?” to “What can I do for you?”  This whole school approach becomes integrated into everyday programming with non-academic strategies such as community circles and student leadership.

Our goal is to reduce the need for exclusionary discipline to yield safer schools, improve academic outcomes, and reduce contact between our youth and the criminal justice system. This program intervention now serves more than 10,000 students with remarkable success. Results include documented academic gains in math, science, and language arts and a 19% increase in students’ perception of school safety. Students are realizing the program’s benefits and it shows with a 28% decrease in suspensions and a decrease of 20% in the number of office referrals given to students. Just Discipline’s impact is clear, and our school partners agree. More than 90% of the teachers we’ve worked with would like the program to continue.

ust Discipline hierarchical model of behavioral and climate  change in schools.
Just Discipline hierarchical model of behavioral and climate change in schools.


  1. Huguley JP, Wang MT, Pasarow S, Wallace Jr JM. Just discipline in schools: An integrated and interdisciplinary approach. Children & Schools. 2020 Jul;42(3):195-9.
  2. Huguley JP, Delale-O’Connor L, Wang MT, Parr AK. African American Parents’ Educational Involvement in Urban Schools: Contextualized Strategies for Student Success in Adolescence. Educational Researcher [Internet]. 2021 Jan;50(1):6–16.
  3. Huguley JP, Fussell-Ware DJ, McQueen SS, Wang MT, DeBellis BR. Completing the circle: Linkages between restorative practices, socio-emotional well-being, and racial justice in schools. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. 2022 Jun;30(2):138-53.
  4. ** Wang MT, Henry DA, Smith LV, Huguley JP, Guo J. Parental ethnic-racial socialization practices and children of color’s psychosocial and behavioral adjustment: A systematic review and meta-analysis. American Psychologist. 2020 Jan;75(1):1.

Explore additional TPS publications here.