Where Restorative Practitioners Network, Share and Learn
I am in a reflective mood and I am reminded of a story of one of my many experiences at Fenger where Restorative Justice created an opportunity for growth for our students. It all started in the lunchroom one typical morning. Our students come in through their entrance and they are checked in by security. Then our student come in and eat breakfast and socialize before being released out of the lunchroom and go to their first period. During this particular time of waiting to be released two friends were trying out a new handshake. While these seniors were laughing and enjoying themselves, another student noticed them doing their handshake and began to question them about what they were doing. Feeling disrespected the students started to have words and then other students gathered around to see what was going on. The senior students, who were popular students, postured themselves to fight but before anything could occur our security team already dispersed the students and separated the ones that were about to fight. As I was preparing for my day, some of my Peer Jurors who were in the lunch room approached me and told me about the situation and who was involved. One of my peer jurors said,"You going to have a big peace circle today. Let me know if you need my help." Quite frankly, because this situation happened in the lunchroom, I knew that all of the 8 male students involved were not going to end up in my office but be sent home on a suspension. But was I in for a surprise that day!!!
Both the Dean and the principal had conducted their interviews with the students and it was decided that there needs to be a restorative response to this situation. Once the decision was made all 8 of the students, the dean and the principal were in my office. As we sat down and we opened up the Circle, all the students, when they received the talking piece agreed that the situation was a big misunderstanding. Some began to share stories about situations they were dealing with and others in the circle were able to relate by sharing their stories. They realized where they went wrong and how their behavior could have resulted in serious consequences. Because of the circle, these young men were able to face each other and see that they are all TITANS!!! After the closing ceremony each of the students shook hands and even hugged each other as they were preparing to leave my office. They did this without any adults prompting them to do this which showed their sincerity. Once we concluded the circle, the adults decided to allow them to blow off some steam and play basketball. And the students who were the main ones in conflict were on the same team!!! They played for about 25 minutes and afterwards were sent to class skipping and excited about the school day.
So what did we learn from this experience? One of the things I learned is that our students can resolve their conflicts when they are given the opportunity to do so. Another thing I learned is that creating opportunities to think differently about youth conflict is crucial in not choosing zero-tolerance as the only way to resolve conflict. I also learned that caring adults modelling the importance of these practices will serve as a guide to students who may not be able to see that a restorative response is the better response to this situation. Another thing I learned is to be creative in ways to restore students back into the community after a conflict. I hope that this story is a reminder of how important these practices are to the social- emotional development of our youth. Our journey continues. . .