I was thrilled when I found out I was going to spend a week in Denver with my husband in late January. He’d be involved with the Youth for Christ National Office. I knew immediately I could visit some schools and districts that are further along in implementing restorative practices (RP) than we are in Central California. I’d heard about two schools I wanted to visit. One school was able to accommodate my request.
Meet RJ Coordinator
Anna Bicknase [see photo] was a classroom teacher for 13 years until she created the position of Restorative Justice (RJ) Coordinator. She spent almost four hours with me on Tuesday, January 31, 2017. She introduced me to many other staff that are committed to restorative justice. Even their two campus police officers deal with students in a restorative manner.
Hinkley H.S., Aurora, CO
But RJ didn’t happen overnight. In 2006, a small group of teachers at Hinkley H.S. [see photo] like Ms. Bicknase (a.k.a. the peace princess) sought a better system to discipline students. In the former punitive system, there was a lack of respect, no relationships, blame and shame.
Culture of Care
A number of employees became passionate about changing their school. The Denver Foundation provided initial training on the school-to-prison pipeline for staff, teachers, and students. Dr. Tom Cavanagh from Colorado State University has done extensive training on creating a culture of care, restorative justice, healing the harm, accountability, reintegration, and caring.
Food Bank & School Supplies
A community partnership developed with Food Bank of the Rockies. A storage room was cleared and is now filled with items their students and families may need. Although the food truck comes weekly, one wall is entirely filled with food. The opposite wall is filled with school supplies, like binder paper, folders, index cards, glue sticks, etc. that students may need. Added to that are clothes, prom dresses, and coats. Several students access these resources daily.
Fast Forward to 2017
This is Ms. Bicknase’s first year as the Restorative Justice Coordinator for Hinkley H.S. Much of what they’ve accomplished is because administration is 100% behind making Hinkley H.S. restorative as are about 75% of the teachers. Applying for grants over the years has helped them accomplish goals over time. I hope to see a similar RESTORATIVE word mural [see photo] in the hallways of schools I work alongside.
Concern Circle in Art Class
Shortly after my arrival, I observed a circle of concern that Ms. Bicknase led. When we arrived at the art class, thirty students were assembled on chairs and stools arranged in a circle ready to begin. The students in the class previously completed pop art depicting the norms (or expectations) for their class.
Typically the teacher leads the circle, but in this case, the teacher wanted to participate in the circle. Some students are not listening when she speaks and are disrespectful of classmates who want to learn.
On each round, students had prompts to answer honestly. The first prompt was, “What do you like about this class?” Each student answers, and then passes the talking piece to the next student. Another round provided the opportunity for students to state what needs to happen in their classroom to make the norms happen.
By the end of the forty-minute circle, each student stated a specific behavior he/she will change to make the learning environment more effective. Two senior girls shared about friends who are currently at risk for graduating because they’re missing units, even elective units. Their advice left classmates with comments to ponder about their own goals and graduation.
Many of the school’s accomplishments include the students themselves. Hinkley High School’s mission statement was created by students.
“Students demonstrate positive character and will be academically and socially prepared to successfully participate in our community and the ever-changing world.”
ASB students and peer mediators are an integral part of restorative justice implementation. Students created the RJ poster that is located in every classroom [see photo].
I appreciate how much I learned that I can share with the 16 school sites I work with in Modesto City Schools. Thank you Anna and all those I met, for sharing your valuable journey and lessons learned. I hope someday one of our sites can host a guest wanting to learn more about RP.