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Central makes restorative justice part of the day

Children at Central elementary take turns answering the question
Children at Central elementary take turns answering the question 'if you were an animal, what type of animal would you be and why?' Every day, the Grade 5/6 students take part in a regular morning conversation circle, which is a common restorative practice.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

Even though Chilliwack school district doesn't have an official restorative action policy in place, there are several schools in the district implementing restorative practices.

None more so than at Central elementary.

Every morning, each class at Central starts its day with a "check-in" talking circle for teachers to gauge their students emotional well-being, and for students to share their feelings – good and bad.

"The goal is to create as much safety as we can in the classroom setting," said district counsellor Bernard Klop. "This is a place for kids to discuss all the social issues they experience at school. There is no vehicle for them otherwise to talk about these things."

Klop has been working in the Chilliwack school district for 12 years, and has been implementing restorative practices for almost just as long.

Part of Klop's master's thesis was on restorative practices. He's visited alternate schools in Pennsylvania, and has attended an international conference in Hal, England that looked at how the city – once referred to as the "armpit of England" – became a restorative city.

About five years ago, Klop took Central under his wing, training the teachers in restorative practices. Soon, he had Little Mountain doing the same, and was just recently asked to do a full-staff training at Cheam elementary.

When teachers are resistant to the time commitment required, Klop reminds them that a large portion of the elementary curriculum is oral language development.

"This is teaching a ton of language," he said. "It's teaching that social, emotional language for kids to learn how to relate to each other – it's a life skill.

"We need to do way more work around teaching that social EQ (emotional intelligence) and then the academics will follow," said Klop.

Several students who've experienced talking circles at the elementary level are now taking those skills with them into middle school.

Last year, students going into Chilliwack middle school from Central, Little Mountain and Strathcona, expressed a desire for talking circles at the middle school level.

Based on student demand, Klop did training at CMS, and now the Grade 7 classes start their mornings with circles.

"It's about building a sense of connection, a sense of safety, a sense of caring, a sense of belonging in schools," said Klop. "And once we have that safety there, and that sense that I am a part of a community, and if I harm that community, I'm going to be held accountable, but if I own up to my behaviour, and if I go through the circle process, I'm going to be reintegrated back into the community.

"I'm not going to be shunned, banished or alienated, because that just leads to kids dropping out of school."

In addition to the aforementioned schools, individual teachers around the district have also employed restorative practices in their classrooms.

Klop hopes one day every teacher in the school district will operate under a restorative model.

"Really, it's just shifting the thinking," he said.

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

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