Applying Restorative Justice Through Community Circles

Claudia Rojas (bio) discusses using communication strategies to promote a culture of safety and respect.

Another exciting venture that we've started this year is around restorative justice. So through the help of the California Endowment, who is also one of our partners, we were able to receive a grant so that we could do what are called "community circles" here and so that's mainly done through our advisory program, where each teacher takes a cohort of students, between 20 to 25 students, and they follow them through their four years here at the Community Health Advocates School. They create a community environment in that advisory.

The concept is simple, they sit in a circle, they have a talking piece, and they learn how to communicate better. So what happens is the more community building that we do, the more community circles that we do, the less harm circles we have to do.

So what harm circles are is if we're having a conflict, instead of doing what we would traditionally do, because maybe we're experiencing post-traumatic stress and one of the coping mechanisms is to be violent or, "I'm having an issue with you, so I'm going to fight you." "I need your hands," is what the students say. So we're trying to teach them that there's different ways to communicate and resolve whatever conflict that is. So we will bring them into a harm circle. Usually the circle involves whatever students are having the conflict with each other and then support. So maybe there's the teacher that they really trust that they want to have in the circle for support, sometimes it's the parent. Usually myself, the principal; their guidance counselor will be there.

Luckily this year we were able to get a restorative justice coordinator, so this person helps facilitate the circles. We're starting to find that this is very effective. Actually I should say it's building off of the culture that we worked really hard on last year. Last year was our first year of existence and we spent all year just establishing this culture of safety and respect and really a focus on learning and making sure that students are here to gain their education so that they can also better their lives.

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Excerpted from an interview at CBITS Summit 2013 in Santa Monica, CA.



More From Claudia Rojas (bio)

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