Building Community Within the School
“Last night I was walking to the store. A guy on a dirt bike went by, and the guys on the corner started shooting at him. I didn’t want to get shot, so I jumped in the bushes and stayed there for a long time.” This story was told by a middle school boy at Walter P. Carter to other boys who were sitting with him in a circle. “What happened? Are you okay?” asked several of the other boys. Then another boy shared that his father just got locked up. Remarkably, these conversations took place during the school day among all the boys in the classroom, a place where it is not normal for young men to express vulnerability.
These boys were participating in a proactive circle, which is part of the Restorative Practices Program that Acts4Youth staff are instituting at Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle School as part of our pilot Foundations program. Restorative Practices seek to cultivate a culture in which everyone feels like they belong. The goal is to build a sense of community in which every member feels that they are seen, heard, and respected.
“The key element of this story,” says Acts4Youth staffer Daniel King-Robertson, “is that the boys felt comfortable enough to share their experiences. This is not normal in this culture where young men are told to be strong even when they’ve suffered trauma. More important than building a relationship with me is building a relationship with each other. I am empowering them to respect one another.”
Later during the same class period, after two of the boys had a loud argument, Daniel pulled all the boys together in a responsive circle. This second type of circle is used when someone or something has negatively impacted the entire group.
After some discussion among the boys, Daniel asked, “Is there anyone who would like to apologize for how their behavior has negatively impacted the community?” The two boys who were arguing said they wouldn’t apologize. Then everybody else started apologizing. One kid said, “I apologize for getting up and fixing my chair.” Another boy said, “I apologize for being selfish and not giving the fidget up for someone else to use.” Then, one of the arguing boys raised his hand and said, “I want to apologize.” Daniel, said, “Let’s go. Everybody pay him attention.” The boy said, “I apologize for fussing.” Then everybody clapped. It was a moment of unity.