I’ve been contemplating the power and importance of student voice for some time. Ever since I started working at George Middle School as the 8th Grade Site Supervisor, my site staff and the larger Middle School team have been asking, how we can provide diverse, best-practice programming while inviting our Camp Fire kids into the conversation? 

In September the Middle School staff held our yearly Restorative Justice training with Resolutions Northwest, an organization that provides the training for restorative conversations in schools.

We started the day off, sitting in a circle, and our facilitator began by asking the question, “What is a circle and why do we do it?”

Throughout the day we talked about systemic racism, the school to prison pipeline, and the need for trauma-informed care in schools. We spoke openly about some of our unconscious biases and our own experiences of historical trauma in the school system. I think these conversations among staff are crucial to our work in middle schools. If we are to expect our students to talk openly about the critical issues in their lives (racism, classism, poverty, abuse, the list goes on), we must know the strategies to self-advocate and affect change in our communities.

What are community circles?

Circles are spaces and places to build caring relationships, provide opportunities for all members of the community to have a voice, understand, honor and work through differences, and repair harm. Circles teach to lift barriers between people and open the possibility for connection, collaboration, and mutual understanding.

Why restorative justice matters

  1. Healthy and meaningful relationships among and between students, staff and families
  2. Climate of care and connection
  3. Belonging and significance for all within the Camp Fire community
  4. Supportive environment for maximal learning

How it plays out

Because of our work where we address interpersonal conflict outside of schools’ traditional disciplinary systems, students build their Camp Fire community with conversations of accountability, responsibility, healing, problem solving, and more.

This fall, our Middle School students went out to Camp Namanu. Students learned new ways to use their voice, they practiced bravery, and they came up with ways to be proud of themselves. We learned how each person likes to be supported and encouraged differently, and we practiced naming the bravery we saw in each other.

 

I love working with youth who daily inspire me to create and sustain healthy, supportive and inclusive communities. We are all striving to thrive. Camp Fire youth remind me, time after time, that all of our voices are necessary.

By Jamie Alwine

8th Grade Site Supervisor, George Middle School