Schools seeking ways to help students better understand the consequences of their actions find that restorative justice practices are making a big difference in the classroom.
“When a child comes to you with a conflict, you can either heal them or hurt them. It depends on how you respond to them. Restorative justice is a way to heal relationships and that’s what matters in the end,” said Arlette Tereslener, librarian and restorative justice coordinator at Desert Oasis Elementary in Tolleson Elementary School District.
Desert Oasis students can choose to go with traditional discipline for an infraction or restore the relationship they have damaged, said Principal Claudia Espinoza.
If they choose to restore the relationship, students who have a conflict meet with a mediator and talk with each other about what led up to the situation, what happened and how it made them feel.
The insight they develop into the consequences of their words and actions helps increase their empathy for each other, which helps them work together to find solutions and restore their relationship, Espinoza said.
Video by Angelica Miranda/AZEdNews: Restorative Justice at Tolleson Elementary School District
“The students who I have worked with come in very willing to talk things out, to have a set of parameters where I get to share my side and you get to share your side, and then we get to come to an agreement,” said Alana Kopp, school counselor at Desert Oasis.
They’re also learning that they can have healthy relationships built on respect, and that “I don’t have to be your friend, but I can be your classmate,” Kopp said.
“When we get in trouble, now we can figure it out on our own,” said Contrell, a student who recently began doing mediation and reached out for help continuing it. “Ms. Kopp taught us how to do it. I was proud, because I remembered what she had taught me.”
How it helps in the classroom
Restorative justice practices have helped Desert Oasis sixth-grade teacher Anna Lesperance build strong relationships with her students.
“If they are having a bad day they can come and let me know so that I understand and I don’t think that they’re just giving attitude or acting out that day,” Lesperance said. “They can come to me with anything that they have any concerns with. They’re not going to be judged.”
After a conference with a student and the school counselor, Lesperance said she saw positive changes in the classroom and the student’s parents told her they saw the same at home.
“I’m just really glad that we have this program here, because I see it working,” Lesperance said.
“Restorative justice has come in as another layer to our positive behavioral interventions and supports and Kids at Hope program to seal it together,” Espinoza said. “It was the next step we needed in order to help the kids really think about solving problems instead of getting into more problems.”