Joe Brummer, a mediator and consultant, spoke about integrating restorative justice practices into New Haven Public Schools at Thursday’s New Haven Families Connect meeting.
Brummer, addressing a crowd of 40 NHPS parents, school officials and community members at Hillhouse High School, defined restorative practices — a philosophy that revolves around communication and teaching students how to respond to and learn from misbehavior — and discussed how NHPS can most effectively implement them districtwide.
“Restorative dialogue and restorative practices aren’t responding to behavior, but used to actually create environments in school where those misbehaviors don’t exist,” Brummer said in an interview with the News. “When implemented well, they reduce suspensions and referrals and can be a way of creating better school climates.”
Brummer said one restorative practice involves using the circle process, which brings together the victim and perpetrator of an action, within the classroom context. He said restorative justice practices teach students how to react appropriately to each other and aim at community development in schools.
Jennifer Ricker and JoAnne Wilcox, members of the steering committee of New Haven Families Connect — a coalition of NHPS parents who are dedicated to providing feedback to the district — helped organize the event.
After a complimentary dinner and Brummer’s speech, NHPS Project Director Cameo Thorne addressed the way in which restorative practices are being implemented on the ground at schools around the district. Brummer said he has been working with school officials at West Rock’s Brennan-Rogers Magnet School and New Haven Academy to implement restorative strategies.
Nijija-Ife Waters, another steering committee member and meeting attendee, said the meeting’s good turnout indicated the level of enthusiasm surrounding the introduction of restorative practices in NHPS. Waters said her kindergartener attends a local magnet school within NHPS while her older son attends St. Martin de Porres Academy, a private faith-based school that uses restorative justice practices. She noted that she thinks students at St. Martin de Porres experience fewer daily behavioral issues thanks to students’ increased awareness of appropriate behavior and response to conflict, encouraged by the school’s use of restorative techniques.
Waters also highlighted the increased level of accountability to which restorative practices hold students.
“I think implementing restorative practices will solve a lot of the problems inside the system,” Waters said. “You don’t want to ask the child, ‘What did you do?’ because they already know — it’s now about saying who did you affect by doing what you did and how can you not do that again?”
Waters stressed the importance of restorative practices in urban environments, where suburban teachers or classmates may not understand some of the unique struggles inner-city students face.
Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 also addressed the parents Thursday, ending the event with a question and answer session.
Former Superintendent Reginald Mayo founded the Citywide Parent Team — now called New Haven Families Connect — in 2009.