This is America: Restorative Peace Circles and the decline of Suspensions and Expulsions

bySharon M. Ponder

“What's fundamental about restorative justice (practices) is a shift away from thinking about laws being broken, who broke the law, and how we punish the people who broke the laws. There's a shift to: there was harm caused, or there's a disagreement, and how do we repair the harm, address the conflict, so that relationships and community can be repaired and restored, It's a different orientation. It is a shift.” Cheryl Graves- Community Justice for Youth Institute

This curriculum unit focuses on the justification for implementing restorative justice peace circles in American schools. It will also share research and evidence that demonstrates how the vicious cycle of the school to prison pipeline is damaging our cultural foundation.  What positions restorative justice peace circles apart from typical punitive methods is that restorative justice does not view crime as an act against the state, but rather “as an act against individuals and their community. Restorative peace circles are designed to provide students, staff, community members and law enforcement officials opportunities to analyze and discuss their issues and or concerns in a safe space. A peace circle is a restorative justice model that, like other restorative justice practices, can be used to address conflict holistically and solve problems. Peace circles emphasize healing and learning through a collective group process, aiming to repair harm done and assign responsibility by talking through the problem.  In this unit students will learn a brief history on peace circles and its benefits. The unit will culminate in a PEACE project where students create poetry, technology integrated projects and public service announcements highlighting the benefits of conflict resolution as well as accountability through restorative practices.

(Developed for Social Studies, grades 4-5; recommended for Social Studies, Physical Education, and Health, grades K-8)

Comments (2)

    Reginald Ponder (North Park University, Chicago, IL)
    Subject taught: Marketing and Advertising
    The Impact of Restorative Practices
    I really like the entire concept. This put part of the educational responsibility on the students. They learn to express themselves, to listen, to develop ownership for their actions and how to resolve conflict in a productive way. The exercises are exciting as they use material young people are paying attention to today while connecting it to some of our literal greats. An ingenious way to insert literal exploration into the restorative justice process. I think the entire school will need to be trained on this to minimize \"back-sliding\" into initial reactions. Lets say the janitor feels disrespected but is not aware of the Restorative Justice approach, he/she will lash out and may do harm to the process and the sessions we are trying to teach. Therefore we all need to be part of the process. I also think there should be strong emphasis on the fact that this is not a \"feel good thing to do\" but rather something that not only stops bullying but improves the learning process in so many tangible and intangible way. Finally, I love this practice but administrators must also take into account age appropriate behavior BEFORE we even get to this point. There is mush evidence that children of color are punished for age appropriate behavior when there should be no punishment at all. Many times there is no need for a circle but rather better judgment by teachers and administrators. I love this unit and can see it being effective on many fronts and can even see some expansion opportunities.
    Rhinold Ponder (Princeton Pubic Schools, PRINCETON, NJ)
    Subject taught: African American Studies,
    Restorative Justice Moving Foward
    This is a wonderful program as restorative justice practices are essential for reforming the educational environment and prospects fr children of color and children with disabilities.The implementation of Peace Circles is the beginning of cultural changes that will encourage adults to treat kids of color like learning community members as opposed to criminals. The dismantling of the school-to-prison pipeline can begin here.

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