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Pittsford Power Hour Shines Light On Restorative Practices

student panel

At the June 14 Pittsford Power Hour, a panel of Calkins Road Middle School students shared their experiences with Restorative Practices, what they are, what they are not, and what Restorative Practices look like at Pittsford Central School District. Restorative practices, as defined by the International Institute for Restorative Practices, is a social science that studies how to improve and repair relationships between people and communities. This practice has been shown to build healthy communities, increase social capital, decrease crime and antisocial behavior, repair harm, and restore relationships. In a school district, this can be the relationship between student and student, staff and student, or staff and staff.

During the discussion, student panelists shared their personal experiences with community circles, including this feedback from a CRMS student: “I feel like community circles make you feel like you’re being heard. They let everybody talk. The situation that was happening could have been more confrontational if not for the circle because we got to talk, say how we feel, and get our voices heard. It helps me learn and understand how whoever else is in the circle feels.”

Panelists also talked about how community circles have led to community building, growth, empathy, understanding, and pride in themselves for not only being able to be vulnerable, but for fostering a safe environment for others to do the same, and have noticed these same skills being translated in other areas of their lives.

“It allows us to lay a foundation to help people, especially our students, build the skills they need to resolve conflict, engage in empathetic conversations, hold themselves accountable, and strengthen their skillsets,” said Leylan Akyuz, social worker at Mendon High School. “In that aspect, we are being preventative, because when we help them with those skills, they can foster those skills in every aspect of their lives.”

Pittsford Schools implement restorative practices through various types of Restorative Circles, such as Sequential Restorative Circles, Real Justice Circles, or Fishbowl Restorative Circles.

Sequential Circles are when everyone sits in a circle and has a structured conversation about a topic regarding current events such as race, or student-interest topics like stress management and self-care. During these circles, everyone has the chance to elevate their voice, or elevate the voices of others by being an active listener in a “safe space” where emotions can be shared.

Fishbowl/Community Restorative Circles are considered a great way to get to know one another, and for students to connect. This is especially beneficial in the beginning of the year, where students get to communicate and get to know each other face-to-face and create those connections.

Real Justice Circles are when a relationship, curated in the Fishbowl Circles, is in need of restoration. If there is conflict between staff and staff, staff and student, or student and student, a Real Justice circle helps the parties remove roles from the situation, speak to each other as humans, uncover the underlying issues and come from places of empathy and vulnerability in order to repair harm, reduce future wrongdoing, deepen connections, and strengthen relationships.

“Community circles are the base layer of what makes restorative circles work,” said Calkins Road Assistant Principal Michael Falzoi. “In order to restore a relationship, there has to be a relationship to restore.”

Attendees were able to participate in a question and answer session and learn from the panelists. They learned that restorative circles are optional, and not mandatory. Students have the option of participating in one, or not, based on their comfort level. Students also have the option of writing down their thoughts or asking a counselor or teacher to be a proxy.

Falzoi has seen the positive results of restorative circles at Calkins Road Middle School. “When I started participating in restorative circles, I saw positive results immediately. By removing the power roles, we talk as humans, and I think sometimes that’s what students need.” Restorative circles have both immediate and lasting outcomes. “I find students respond to me differently now,” he said.

For more information about Restorative Practices, please refer to the District’s 2021-2022 “Code of Conduct and Restorative Supports,” at https://www.pittsfordschools.org/cms/lib/NY02205365/Centricity/Domain/80/Code%20of%20Conduct%202021-2022%20Final.pdf

View a recording of the June 14 Power Hour at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L3JjK0ba98&list=PLAVgmm2z2hz7kAVC4vj8sZKWlau9Ma1Lc&index=3.