On May 30, 2017 from 6pm to 8pm, in the multi-purpose room of Daly City’s Thomas R. Pollicita Middle School, Dr. Loretta Johnson of the American Federation of Teachers will be flying in from Washington DC to lead a panel discussion on Restorative Practices. Dr. Johnson will be joined by local educators, particularly members of the American Federation of Teachers local 3267 and American Federation of Teachers local 1481, Daly City Councilmember Ray Buenaventura, as well as student activists from the community. The school is located at 550 East Market Street in Daly City and the event is open to the public.
It sounds like a complicated social science but Restorative Practices is simply incorporating a child’s emotional landscape into the way a school manages its culture. When I was in public school, managing emotions was considered the domain of my parents. That left a lot of room for imperfection in the school environment. Students were left to manage situations like bullying, cliques or general exclusion and insecurity on their own. School was for academics and sports, not matters of the heart. Decades later, during the Obama Administration, a new mandate has risen around thinking through the public school environment—a mandate that includes social and emotional factors into the student culture. After all, the majority of a student’s waking hours are spent at school. There is a lot of emotional exposure that happens outside the parental domain.
The primary focus of implementing Restorative Practices in Bay Area schools is Restorative Justice. This involves resolving disciplinary behavior differently, through group discussions and community involvement.
“Schools and teachers do not want to be part of a system that criminalizes students at an early age,” said Melinda Dart, President of the American Federation of Teachers local 3267. “Schools need to build positive environments just to get everybody there every day,” she continued, referring to the notion that driving high attendance is one of the key factors in the success of a student population.
“Unjust disciplinary consequences can make kids feel alienated,” said Dart. These would include classic school punishments like suspension or expulsion. Restorative Justice uses a softer approach to discipline that would include empowering the victim and teaching empathy to the bully.
The evening discussion on May 30th attempts to bring the community into the broader discussion of rolling out Restorative Practices into local schools. Including the community in the solution, in fact, is one of the five pillars of the restorative discipline. The others include healthy relationships between educators and students, conflict resolution, restoring positive relationships, and reducing harmful behavior. In order to achieve all this, teachers must undergo training. In the Peninsula, the schools furthest along in adopting Restorative Justice are three in the Mission Corridor of Community Schools—Pollicita Middle School, Jefferson High School, and Woodrow Wilson Elementary, all in Daly City. Woodrow Wilson Elementary will have a program geared to younger students called Soul Shop.
By taking the perspective that “the bully is not a happy, well-adjusted individual,” and focusing on changing that person’s trajectory before it develops further is expected to reduce crime before the criminal is formed. To accomplish such a thing, the educators driving the program need the support of the community. So come hear Dr. Johnson if you live in the area. It will be a nice way to start the short week after your Memorial Day break.