First Creek Middle School: Circle Keepers.
The work at First Creek has been exciting. I don’t think this is the traditional approach of restorative practices, but has been a wonderful way to approach implementation. When I think about implementation problems I think about access points. Those points where there is space to create new programs or approaches, the point at which we place our policy lever and push. For Restorative Justice I seek the entry point in school systems, juvenile justice, and post-secondary education. These points of entry often reside in a person or group of people that work in the system. This person or people access RJ programs trainers (like myself) and begin the work of culture change. Brad Brown (First Creek MS), Garth Reeves (Big Picture), and Marco Salas (Pierce Co. Juvenile Justice) are some of the people that have made the decisions to implement RJ in their systems. These individuals are in positions of authority within their systems. The question is where and how are systems changed without the authority figures making the change?
Mr. Brown felt the youth would be a good access point, I couldn’t have agreed more. There are other cases around the country where youth have self-advocated and changed discipline policies after reading or experiencing RJ. At First Creek we are pushing down restorative practices to the youth. Two youth were identified in each advisory (the morning class, 25 minutes long). These youth were then given training on using circles to build community. This took place for each grade level 6th, 7th and 8th. Approximately 28 youth per grade level were trained, a total of nearly 60 youth.
When you want to change the culture of a school and when considering access points the youth of the school have dramatic power and potential. This is of course a difficult process, 6th graders are developmentally in a very different space when we develop leadership, but they are building capacity early. After the very first training youth asked when they were going to meet again as circle keepers, they are eager for more information and structure. From the beginning they felt like leaders.
What it looks like now: designated youth in each (and every) advisory leads a circle. Each advisory is divided into two smaller groups, this facilitates youth leading a smaller circle (approximately 8-10) and allows the teacher the freedom to “supervise and support.” We are developing a rigorous training schedule for the circle keepers. This will include their own circle work outside of class. It will include new process tools how to build a talking piece, how to have fun in a circle, how to listen, how to engage other youth, and how to coach for more meaning.
So remember when discussing and deciding on your implementation plan don’t overlook the power and potential of well-developed youth leaders. Relationships first is the mantra here, building strong relationships within the school will create a healthy and sustainable environment for curriculum instruction.