Restorative Justice/Practice Fall 2019

Supporting Mental Health Using Restorative Justice/Practice
Posted on 12/04/2019
Restorative Justice and Practice in DCSD
Staff Learn Ways to Support Mental Health in Schools

HIGHLANDS RANCH - Over 200 Douglas County School District (DCSD) mental health professionals, administrators, and teachers came together at the Highlands Ranch Mansion in November to discuss an uncommon topic -- Restorative Justice and Restorative Practice (RJ/RP).

Workshops like this one give staff the space to talk about how mental health is connected to climate and culture within schools. The practice applies to students, staff, administrators, volunteers, anyone who is part of that school’s community.

Health, Wellness, and Prevention Director Zac Hess, who leads the team that organizes the RP/RJ workshops points to the importance of teachers and administrators participating.

“You get to learn skills that you can do in your classroom and your level,” Hess says. “Anybody can use these principles.”

But what are the principles of RJ/RP and why is DCSD so enthusiastic about it?

At its core, RJ/RP is an alternative way to think about crime, conflict, and criminal justice. It’s less about punishing the offender and more about repairing the fabric of community peace by making the offender accountable to those around them. The RJ/RP framework provides strict guidelines for better understanding and addressing behaviors as a community.

As a demonstration of the power of RJ/RP, the keynote speaker at November’s workshop gave an intimate insight into how the framework transformed his school.

20-year-old Zyshaun Jackson from Colorado Springs graduated from Sierra High School where he had implemented a Peer Jury class that practiced RJ/RP.

Zyshaun Jackson“Restorative Justice is all about building relationships,” Jackson explained. “Everyone wants a comfortable learning experience at school, students and teachers alike. So we would ask students questions like ‘What’s going on in your life?’ and “What do you need that the school can provide?’ Together we would find a solution.”

Now, as part of the National Planning Committee for Restorative Justice and the Youth Voice Facilitator for El Paso County, Jackson shares his experiences with school districts like Douglas County.

His advice?

“Be vulnerable. Be open. This whole experience requires people to be open. It will never work if you’re not open.”

The RJ/RP workshop also opened space for schools to share ideas on what protective methods were proving helpful for students. Prevention Counselor Tiffany Anderson was demonstrating Sierra Middle School’s Basecamp Room to inspire and provide guidance for schools looking to create their own.

“This is our third year in operation,” says Anderson. “We had a major makeover last year where Chaparral students came and painted the lighthouse mural.”

The lighthouse mural acts a beacon with words of wisdom painted next to it: You can’t change the ocean or the weather, no matter how hard you try, so it’s best to learn how to sail in all conditions. The imagery and phrase are meant to remind students to be resilient and use their learned skills during turbulent times.

Sierra Middle School Basecamp RoomBasecamp Room is available to everybody in the school, whether a student uses it on a daily basis or those who need it occasionally. Students typically spend ten to fifteen minutes doing activities that help them recenter and refocus so they can return to class and learn effectively. Oftentimes, students who are falling asleep in class or bouncing off the walls use physical activities like a balance board or stationary bike to even out their energy.

“When I started as a school counselor at Sierra, I saw so many times kids were going through crisis situations and they were unable to identify any coping skills,” says Anderson. “It’s so valuable to have a room dedicated to developing those coping mechanisms.”

In other words, the Basecamp Room helps students build skills that may prevent future behavioral and attendance issues. The skills they learn help them make positive choices with their feelings.

Restorative Justice and Practice Workshops bring together DCSD staff with different backgrounds and roles to a common goal -- supporting the mental health of the students in their care.

The workshops occur two times a year and the next one will take place on April 1, 2020 at the Highlands Ranch Mansion. Save the date and look for registration announcements.

RJ/RP Workshops Organizing Team: Zac Hess, Jamie Montoya-DeSmidt, Jill Savage, Jenifer Nerwin, Liana Finn, Jon Smith, Erin Carlson, Jessica Balke, and Chris Saiz.
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