NOTE: THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE. SEE ALL D & C ARTICLES.
August 12, 2015
As I and others have written, with school less than a month away, the new East is emerging. Building the new East one purple bookbag at a time and What the new East will and will not be
As part of its changing environment, in the Fall, East will be implementing a “Family Group” model. In this model, a group of 8 -10 students meet everday to build a community, often through restorative practices.
This week I was invited to visit a 3 day training session on restorative practices, including Peace Circles, offered to all East teachers, psychologists, school counselors and social worker. Over 220 participated in this first time summer, off campus event. The sessions were facilitated by Jeanne Carlivati of Partners in Restorative Initiatives. pirirochester.org/
As explained to me by PIRI’s Michelle Woodworth, a Peacemaking Circle is a process that brings together individuals who wish to engage in conflict support, decision or other activities in which honest communications, relationship development and community building are core desired outcomes. For more on restorative practices, see On restorative justice, Non-Violence Clubs and school discipline
East faculty and staff are always a spirited bunch, but this week I sensed renewed passion in anticipation of East’s new beginning. At the Hillside Mennonite Church where the sessions took place, I watched as groups formed a Peace Circles and decorated the “circle center” with plates representing behaviors, hands promises and other talking points including Native American artifacts.
East School Social Worker, Michelle Garcia, LCSW (pictured), elaborated on what I was observing:
The power of the circle creates a safe place where both students and adults equally share time and space. By passing a “talking stick” around the circle, each member is guaranteed a voice and an opportunity to actively listen. Circle encourages members to have fun, build relationships and solve problems. Circle helps students feel safe, promoting the growth of self-esteem and social skills.
Furthermore, Michelle explains how restorative practices can and do work successfully:
In my work with facilitating a weekly circle for 7th graders, once a sense of safety was established amongst member, students spoke of their hopes, goals, fears and frustrations. Circle topics ranged from the school uniform policy to violence in the community. Students contributed to “circle center” by bringing pictures of themselves or family members. Often times, the athletes would add jerseys or a football to the center.
Ultimately – as students grew to see the activity as something they themselves create and reflect upon – circle time became an anticipated event.
At the end of three days of circles, building relationships and good food (I came by for a reason), Michelle says “we have already learned more about each other than we might all year.” English teacher Brandon White, who joined the group from Douglass (where he runs an innovative extra curricular program Chess, Rhymes and Wisdom) nicely summarized why he spent three days of his waning summer vacation to come to the Mennonite chapel. Alluding to the notion that Peace Circles are just another fad, Brandon says, “I wanted to get the experiences necessary to avoid designating ‘Restorative Practices’ to the buzzword/flavor-of the-academic-year status.” From what I have seen, I think RP is here to stay.