PLEASANTON -- The old days of tossing kids in detention with nothing to do is going the way of the buggy whip at Foothill High School.

The school is shaking up its discipline system with a new philosophy called restorative justice.

"We're moving from a punitive program to one where we can support the students in making better decisions," said Rich Gorton, vice principal.

Foothill was awarded a two-year $16,000 grant from Alameda County to staff counselors, train teachers and buy supplies for the new restorative justice system. The first step, Gorton said, is to spread the word on campus that detention has a new style.

The old style of detention, Saturday school, will be replaced with after-school detentions and renamed the Foothill After-School Character Trait Support, or FACTS, program.

"We're changing Saturday school from four hours on Saturday to two hours after school twice a week," he said. "Saturday school was kind of like being in jail. Students went in for four hours and just sat there."

"I'm not convinced that the old method is effective and works," said Jamie Yee Hintzke, a Pleasanton school board trustee. "I've asked for data to show me otherwise, and there isn't any out there."

The new program puts kids to work writing an essay that includes a description of what they did, why they did it and reflection on what they would do differently.

"The idea behind restorative justice is that you face up to what you did," Gorton said. The FACTS program is for students who commit particular offenses such as talking back to teachers and being a first-time cheater. Foothill's program, funded by Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, is a pilot program for Pleasanton. Oakland schools have used it for a few years.

Gorton said the restorative justice concept is somewhat abstract and realizes some might not fully understand the philosophy.

"What's harder? To be suspended at home for three days or to have to answer for yourself to the person you've harmed?" he asked.

Gorton will recruit teachers to take the 50 hours of training. Those teachers, in turn, can train others.

Restorative justice has cut down on repeat offenses, Yee Hintzke said.

"The amount of re-offenses goes down to almost nothing," she said. Another part of the program is what Gorton calls harm circles. Students involved and even parents meet to discuss an incident, understand why it happened and figure out how to avoid it in the future.

Foothill held its first harm circle after a misunderstanding among students working on a class project.

"I was skeptical because it seemed a little touchy-feely," parent Dennis Eagan said. But he came out an advocate of the system.

"It forces you to confront the situation," he said. "Our society has become this whole social networking where we don't have to look people in the eye... A harm circle is probably the healthiest, most realistic thing you can do because it makes you deal with the problem."