So what is Restorative Justice?
While there will always be instances where suspension/expulsion are necessary, Allegan Alternative’s approach to helping students solve problems and mediate conflicts follows a Restorative Justice model. Unlike traditional discipline models, which are based on blame and punishment, Restorative Justice focuses on repairing harm done to relationships.
In a Restorative Justice model, students are held accountable for their choices and actions, while being supported in making things right.
Check out the video below to see the effect Restorative Justice is already having at Allegan Alternative High School!
As mentioned in the video, there are a few specific practices within the Restorative Justice model: circles, chats, and conferences. These practices help us answer the questions:
Who was harmed?
What are their needs?
Whose obligation is it to repair the harm?
Circles – circles serve multiple purposes in the RJ model. Sometimes teachers use proactive classroom circles to facilitate open communication, build community, or to process something that has happened. There are also restorative circles, which bring the victim and the offender together to resolve a larger conflict and work on making things right. Circles are an opportunity for all participants to sit, facing each other, and take turns speaking about a particular topic. Everyone has equal voice in a circle.
Chats – chats are informal conversations with one or two students that aim to bring quick resolution to a situation. These chats address what happened, what students were thinking and feeling, and what should happen next in order to repair harm.
Conferences – conferences, also known as mediations, are used to address more serious and/or ongoing situations through a more involved process. Our trained facilitator meets separately with both students involved for an “intake” meeting, and then brings the parties together to share their perspectives and work towards a mutually agreed-upon resolution. Teachers, families and outside support agencies are sometimes asked to participate in this process.
“There have been so many light bulb moments when students are realizing, maybe for the first time, the extent to which their behavior is causing harm to our entire school community.” – Jen, Restorative Justice Facilitator
“I am learning that I need to be vulnerable too. When I am in a circle being asked if I have been harmed, the answer can be yes.” – AAHS Instructor
“The State mandate is giving me options when it comes to discipline. Sometimes, a student simply needs to go home. But more often, what is going to help the student and school heal is to bring those who have been harmed together in a safe space and work through it together.” – Laura, AAHS Principal
At Allegan Alternative, we want each and every student to have a voice. We also want to teach students the life skill of how to solve conflicts in a peaceful and productive way.
Restorative Justice is allowing for both of these to happen.
-Written by Laura Feffer, Principal