Promise Scholars Strengthen High School Communities With Restorative Practices

Promise Scholars are returning to their schools to make a difference by community building with Restorative Practices. The Scholars have taken on part-time roles as Restorative Practice Mentors where they are trained and certified by the International Institute of Restorative Practices. They continue to play a pivotal role in strengthening relationships in High Schools. The practice has also been a helpful way of building long-term benefits for youth who participate. See what two of the current mentors have to say about their experience.

Caitlin Willis (She/Her/Hers), SCSU ’21 – Restorative Practice Mentor

How has this opportunity to be a restorative practices mentor shaped you?

“This opportunity to work as a restorative practice mentor has really reshaped my mindset. I would say I’ve learned a lot about people and how they make decisions. Restorative practice really is a way of thinking and communicating. It’s changed the way I interact with people in my life outside of work. It is hard to work in restorative practices and not apply it to your everyday life.”

How do you think you have contributed in the short and long-term through this work in schools?

“One short term change I would say I’ve made is going into different schools and providing a space for students to talk about life with their peers. I think this is especially important considering a lot of them aren’t really allowed to hang out outside of school because of COVID, and haven’t really had that opportunity for a few years. It’s important for students to feel like they’re apart of a community, and in order to do that, we have to let these students get to know their peers and build these relationships. 

As for long term changes, my team and I have been going to one school for a few days at a time. Over those few days, we host circles and start the process of community building. While doing this, we train the teachers so that by the last day, they’re running the circle and students are helping to co-facilitate. The goal with this is to get both the teachers and students familiar with restorative practices. The feedback we’ve received from teachers and students has been very positive; they usually look forward to having circles on a more regular basis.”

JiJi Wong (They/Them/Theirs), UConn ’20 – Restorative Practice Mentor

How has this opportunity to be a restorative practices mentor shaped you?

“Being a Restorative Practices Mentor for NHPS for me is about extending the practice of abolition and building interdependent community care networks into schools. Abolition is about prevention. My school job has taught me so much of preventative work being being on community building. It’s stopping carcerality and working for abolition by preventing the conditions that allow for policing and violence. We meet the needs of individuals where they are at through helping them see how they fit in with and impact the community around them. People want to connect with each other and don’t hurt people for the sake of harm but because hurt people hurt people when their needs aren’t met. It’s about giving students the tools to prevent unwanted behavior by giving them an outlet where they can be vulnerable. They can see and feel through community building circles with peers and adults in schools that vulnerability is okay, that everyone has a story that has shaped them, and every action people do has a reason to it. They learn empathy, gain social emotional skills, and gain self awareness.”

How do you think you have contributed in the short and long-term through this work in schools?

“Yet many people in the school system misunderstand what I do. They think it’s about throwing people into a space to force them to take accountability after harm is done. It’s less about what to do when harm occurs but more what can we do to prevent harm, so that when harm inevitably occurs, we are more ready to call people in and hold them accountable so things don’t escalate. I’ve seen students after extensive community building be able to admit to harm they have committed, and to see the impact of those harmed. They’re given new skills of empathy, and they see us restorative mentors as people who can guide them to taking accountability for their actions without being punished. I am not a problem solver; I am guiding students to recognize their own potential to solve issues in a productive manner. The work is slow and results aren’t immediate, but to be able to see students who previously could not bear one another build respect and community understanding with each other in such a human way is so fulfilling, and gives me hope that they can take these skills and newly learned practice of empathy into the real world outside of the school community and into future spaces they may be a part of. Restorative work and abolition is not finding alternatives to punishment but creating the ideal conditions for people to live at their full potential, which can only be achieved through interdependence, care work, and community building.”

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