A PROJECT OF RURAL SCHOOLS COLLABORATIVE & NREA

Dave Perry - Cloquet, MN

Restorative Practices and healthy relationships prepare students for success in and out of the classroom

April 19, 2023 |
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Photo courtesy of Jana Peterson

Thank you to our friends at the Minnesota Rural Education Association for connecting us to Dave Perry, one of the recipients of their 2022 Educator of Excellence Award. We are grateful for the opportunity to learn more about Dave's commitment to rural education, and we hope you enjoy reading his story!


Dave Perry grew up in Ely, Minnesota, and lived in several towns before moving to Esko in 2000, where he still resides. Dave describes himself as a writer, communicator, counselor, drummer, and lover of music, hockey, movies, and the outdoors. And, Dave is an educator - teaching both special education and social studies for grades 6-12 at Cloquet Area Alternative Education Programs (CAAEP).

Like many others, Dave realized he wanted to pursue a career in education after some encouragement from folks around him:

“My mom (who was a 30+ year teacher and MEA representative) told me that having a teaching license would allow me to substitute teach, virtually guaranteeing me work when I needed it. The next year I began coaching football at Sartell, MN, under the legendary coach, Dean Taylor, who was also a fabulous social studies teacher. After working with him for 2 years, he convinced me that I belonged in teaching, so I followed his advice. He was right.”

Although it is an alternative learning school, Dave explains how the classrooms at CAAEP look similar to most other schools:

“What you see in any school is what goes on here, no matter that we are an alternative setting. We specialize in credit recovery. Walk into a classroom and you will see real learning, often hands-on. You will also see students engaged in online, and after school programming that help them recover graduation credits.”

“I am a community leader - all teachers are. All teachers represent their school, which represents their community. If you are a leader in the classroom - and you must be as a teacher - you have the capacity to change lives and the community in which you live by helping to establish values that are important to the school and community.”

There are only 90 students in grades 6-12 at the school, so a big focus of the faculty and staff is to foster healthy relationships among the student body. As the Restorative Practices (RP) Coordinator for CAAEP, Dave explains what restorative practices mean at his school, and how it helps students and parents engage with each other in healthy ways.

“Restorative Practices at CAAEP joins together the healing and elevating ideals of school and community, respect for the individual, and the concept of circle which unites everyone and encompasses all as we journey to teach accountability for, and peaceful resolution of student behavior. Bullying is virtually non-existent at CAAEP, a byproduct of the RP processes we engage in and the fact that a greater percentage of our students have been bullied at their resident schools and they wish to leave that behind.”

“We also invite parents to join us in relationship-building, school-wide activities and RP events, repairing harm circles (when their child is involved), and field trips - especially those that involve post-secondary options.”

Dave also leads an RP Student Ambassador program, where students assist peers with any issue that might affect them when they are at school. Student ambassadors also assist with outreach to other schools and community organizations to discuss the benefits of Restorative Practices.

“Restorative Practices is the main relationship building and behavior accountability program at CAAEP, and smaller class sizes, smaller teacher-student ratio with more support offered, and a student body comprised of students with similar challenges gives them easier opportunities to bond.”

“Embrace what you have. Use a closer connection to the outdoors to your advantage. Revel in small class sizes that allow for building deeper, more varied relationships.”

Dave’s favorite part of his work is helping high school students devise a plan for post-secondary education, like apprenticeships or employment that connects with students and has them excited, not fearful, of life after graduation.

“We provide students with opportunities to move out of their comfort zones in a smaller school. This could be a college visit or a college fair - in a bigger city, or an event like Construct Tomorrow (where students on IEPs can connect with individuals in various trades). Watching them begin to take ownership of their life path is very rewarding.”

Dave is also in at least weekly communication with the parents of students on his caseload, and his efforts to implement and promote RP take him into the community often.

“I am a community leader - all teachers are. All teachers represent their school, which represents their community. If you are a leader in the classroom - and you must be as a teacher - you have the capacity to change lives and the community in which you live by helping to establish values that are important to the school and community.”

As well, the greater community supports his work:

“We are definitely well-supported by the community. Many of our students’ parents were also students at CAAEP and truly appreciate the role we play in the community. We are also highly appreciated by the 10 other school districts that send students our way!”

“Smaller class sizes, smaller teacher-student ratio with more support offered, and a student body comprised of students with similar challenges gives them easier opportunities to bond.”

Thinking about how rural impacts his experience, Dave defined rural as “smaller, close-knit, slower-paced.” The smaller class sizes and generational connections lend Dave an advantage in his work with RP.

“Rural today is not the same as rural in yesteryear. But rural communities still retain a collective connectedness that urban areas mostly lack. The same goes for rural schools. Students love to hear personal, teacher stories when they are presenting a lesson. Those stories more often than not lead to highly enlightening discussions where real learning takes place. Adhering rigidly to a standard lesson - even one that a teacher believes is engaging - might not be received as well by students if that human element is missing.”

He left us with the following advice for those interested in the rural teaching profession:

“Embrace what you have. Use a closer connection to the outdoors to your advantage. Revel in small class sizes that allow for building deeper, more varied relationships.”

“I am a rural teacher.”

We are grateful to Dave for sharing his story with us about his experiences as an educator in Minnesota, and how he uses Restorative Practices to set students up for a successful future. If you would like to share 30 minutes of your time, or complete an email interview, please reach out to us at info@ruralschoolscollaborative.org. The I Am A Rural Teacher campaign is a collaborative effort with the National Rural Education Association.

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