I was delighted to see another New York Times article about restorative justice. Patricia Leigh Brown's April 3 article, "Opening Up, Students Transform a Vicious Circle," describes the use of restorative justice "talking circles" at Ralph J. Bunche High School in Oakland. The author points out that eight of Oakland's participating schools have full-time restorative justice coordinators, specialists who provide each school with restorative processes.
Just across the Bay, schools in San Francisco, as well as in Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and hundreds of other urban, suburban and rural communities, are adopting an approach that puts restorative practices in every classroom in the building. In these schools they have trained all their teachers and administrators. Some have also trained secretaries, cafeteria monitors, security personnel, bus drivers and even students themselves. Not only talking circles, but informal and impromptu restorative practices provide frequent opportunities for students and staff to express feelings and strengthen relationships.
The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a large federally-funded research project involving a nationally representative sample of 83,074 students from 127 schools, found that where the school environment promotes "connectedness" there are significant positive outcomes among students, such as less violence, less drug and alcohol use and less teen pregnancy. The study found that the need to feel that one belongs to and is cared for at school is one of the most crucial requirements for student health and well-being. On the other hand, harsh discipline policies undermine school connectedness and create animosity and fear among youth and adults.
In "Improving School Climate: Findings from Schools Implementing Restorative Practices," Sharon Lewis, former research director for the Council of the Great City Schools, reported dramatic reductions in suspensions and expulsions at schools in three countries that trained all of their staff in restorative practices. Her report demonstrates that while there are wonderful stories to tell, for those who want proof of the efficacy of this approach, the data shows that restorative practices in schools have a remarkable positive impact when employed by everyone in the school.