A Roadmap for Success: Tailoring Restorative Justice to a School's Unique Needs
I’m Skye Roper Moses, New York Peace Institute’s Restorative Justice Coordinator for Rachel Carson High School. I’m excited to be part of Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Restorative Justice Project because I see the value this project provides to our communities.
Rachel Carson High School is a dynamic place filled with lovely students and staff. Located in Coney Island, it is a science-based high school with a focus on marine biology and robotics. The student body is made up of Eastern European, Latino, Middle Eastern and African American students who I love working with because I am constantly learning new things about how teens experience school from different cultural lenses.
I first took interest in conflict resolution as a child, trying to decipher why so many adults around me would argue when they had opposing views. These arguments never ended well and I was always curious if there was another way to handle differences in opinion without damaging relationships. Years later, when I was looking to register for classes in college, I came across an introduction to mediation class and I was instantly drawn back to my question from youth.
In 2004 I became a caseworker for New York City’s Department of Social Services. Working with families in crisis led me to pursue a Masters in Conflict Resolution and Negotiation at Columbia. I wanted to be a part of the solution and not part of a system that perpetuates the same cycle of misunderstanding and angst.
After graduation, as a volunteer mediator with Safe Horizon Mediation Center (now New York Peace Institute), I was drawn to family and youth cases. I learned about Restorative Justice through a Family Court pilot for court-involved youth, where I was a conflict coach. Hearing about this approach to repairing harm fascinated me and I could see where it could be effective if implemented correctly. Restorative practices provide ways for an individual to be held accountable for their actions, to repair the harm of those impacted, and to support the success of the individual back into the community.
In my work with court-involved youth, I was cautioned to look past the stories you typically hear in the media. And as a conflict coach, I was trained to use empathy as a shield and respect as a sword. With that approach, you can get a surprising response from a youth who just needs to be heard and validated. I was able to get young people to a place within their story where they could recognize at least one thing that they had done and generate a plan to do things differently the next time. This is how I got hooked on Restorative Justice.
Today, as the Restorative Justice Coordinator at Rachel Carson High School, my job is divided into two parts: I serve students to solve conflicts using a restorative forum and I educate staff on the importance of having a Restorative Justice program in their school. New York Peace Institute promotes a whole school approach, which is based on community building and utilizing restorative practices to address discipline rather than relying only on traditional punitive responses.
This model requires the involvement of the entire school, including students, teachers, support staff, administrators, parents, and safety officers, to understand and embrace the principles of Restorative Justice philosophy and practices. It can be accomplished by educating the school community about restorative practices and building capacity to employ the community building and responsive processes.
Central to our approach is molding the program to the individual needs of the school. Rachel Carson's restorative justice program will be unique unto itself. Since starting in October 2015, I’ve facilitated several conflict resolution processes. I’ve mediated and held circles for students both after fights and before things boiled over to a physical altercation. I’ve also used Conflict Coaching for students and some staff who did not want to sit down directly with other parties.
Education of the staff is also key. Our implementation strategy encompasses talking to staff individually about Restorative Justice and co-facilitating small circle trainings with my Restorative Justice manager. Our goal is for staff to obtain a deeper understanding of the process and give them skills to make Restorative Justice a part of their classroom culture. This is a creative and collaborative effort.
One major goal for this year is to have close to 80% understanding of restorative process by staff and students. With just a few months in to our four-year pilot, I’m optimistic about our work and excited to see how it transforms our school community and strengthens the bond between staff and students.