The “Restorative Practices” Have Faded
What you see to your left is a group of students from WPHS who are using a “circle” to build community within the classroom. This photograph is from a past school year, when under the leadership of past principal Saliyah Cruz, West was using “circles” and other techniques from the training that they received from Restorative Practices. After watching the documentary about the transformation of West with the help of Restorative Practices, I was curious to learn more about the program itself and talk to some school administrators or teachers to find out first-hand if this type of programming was still in practice
I started by looking further into Restorative Practices on the web. I learned that Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP) is a graduate school program that aims to restore community in a disconnected world. “The fundamental unifying hypothesis of restorative practices is disarmingly simple: that human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them. This hypothesis maintains that the punitive and authoritarian to mode and the permissive and paternalistic for mode are not as effective as the restorative, participatory, engaging with mode. If this restorative hypothesis is valid, then it has significant implications for many disciplines.” Within the IIRP, the Division of Training & Consulting has a program called “Safer Saner Schools.”
This program is advertised to include comprehensive on-site skills training & consulting, a strategic organizational change process, 100% staff participation, an effective sustainability approach, and built-in assessment mechanisms. Its benefits are listed as reduced misbehavior, violence & bullying, increased instructional time & safety, and improved relationships & attitudes.
After watching the video again on the “The Transformation of West Philadelphia High School,” it seemed to me that the Restorative Practices programming had achieved the benefits that it advertised. Russell A. Gallagher, the Assistant Principal at the time of the documentary’s filming, explained that “at the end of last year our violent acts and serious incidents were down 52% – the largest change in the city. This year so far, we’re down an additional 45% over what we ended up with last year.” Lt. Col. James Cotten, Officer and Teacher, Air Fore Junior ROTC, revealed that “this year I know that we’re going to get off that list of being a “persistently dangerous” school. For instance, we had numerous fires last year. This year, I don’t think we’ve had one fire.” The praise for Restorative Practices went on and on in this video. It seems that this programming really helped to build a positive social culture and community, restoring communication and respect within classrooms.
Last Thursday morning, I was fortunate to be able to go to WPHS with Justin. I spoke to a teacher and former coordinator of the Urban Leadership Academy at West. We discussed the prospects of the Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!) being implemented this year. Additionally, I asked about Restorative Practices at WPHS. He spoke at length about how he really resonated with Restorative Practices and thought that the programming had been successful while it was being practiced. The teacher told us that for his students, an “apology is harder than detention,” and that goes along with Restorative Practices. All of the teachers and administrators at West used to be trained in Restorative Practices, and because of this, they all approached the students in the same way. “Circles,” aimed at improving communication and relationships between students and teacher were used widely by all of the school. However, he informed us that any remaining programming from Restorative Practices is fragmented now that the administrator/educator infrastructure is no longer in place to support it. Since the adoption of Safer Saner School programming from Restorative Practices, there has been over a 50% turnaround in school staff. This included West saying goodbye to Saliyah Cruz, previous Principal of West, who had been a big supporter of Restorative Practices.
West is clearly going through a tough time, and while it would be incredible to try a program like YES! in the school, it may not be a feasible option during this time of chaos and transition.