Helping restore East through restorative classroom practices

Helping restore East through restorative classroom practices
Rest

East Counselor Brett Crandall and East School Social Worker Michelle Garcia [Photo: David Kramer]

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.

The Peace Circle Center [Photo: David Kramer]

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.

SEE ALSO

“Crimes committed in schools will be pursued as crimes committed elsewhere” An Open Letter to RCSD teachers from Brandon White. And restorative justice

 

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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