We have all heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”. While almost all would agree with the sentiment of this axiom, there are probably only a few who know how to give life to its spirit in a public school setting. September 6th marks the first day of school for students in the Richmond area. Along with the anticipation, acclimation and re-adjustment that accompanies the return to school for some students there will be conflict as well.
Whether generated by student’s allegiance to their ‘hood’, old feuds, or the host of other reasons people engage in behaviors that generate conflict, one thing is certain – the conflict will come and it must be addressed and resolved in a manner that does not put the entire school community in peril.
Armstrong High School, now Armstrong/Kennedy, has always been a school on the cusp of change. Indeed during its day of being one of two segregated High Schools in Richmond (Maggie L. Walker was the other), Armstrong has a storied tradition of producing some of the city’s most esteemed political, business, athletic and community leaders. In 1979, Armstrong High and Kennedy High were combined to create the Armstrong/Kennedy High School Complex. The schools were later merged in 2004 due to dwindling populations and given the name Armstrong to reflect the school’s stellar community history.
Just as is the case in other locales where economics have precipitated the merger of schools and a departure from the concept of neighborhood schools, Armstrong has had its challenges in combating and resolving the conflicts that can be associated with having vast numbers of students from different neighborhoods and community cultures occupying the same space.
This year, however, Armstrong is implementing The Restorative Justice Program which is designed to address and resolve conflict in a more community oriented way. According to literature handed out at a meeting yesterday, the pilot program seeks to change the typical school culture in which conflict is addressed by a few administrators in a punitive way, to a more holistic approach that involves the entire school community or village.
This approach, advocates say, allows the collective school community to be active participants in regulating the behavior of its members and meting out justice in a way that does not alienate the offender and weaken the well-being of the community overall. Restorative justice also provides opportunities for the involved parties, parents, school administrators and facilitation specialists to discuss the causes of the conflict and jointly develop an appropriate punishment for the offense.
“Restorative justice”, says Sylvia Clute, Program Coordinator of Armstrong’s Restorative Justice Program, “gets to the core issues involved in the conflict and offers the promise of healing and hope by allowing the entire school community to participate in conflict resolution”. This inclusiveness, Clute says, has great potential for strengthening the community at large.
Partners in the implementation of this new approach to resolving debilitating conflict are The Richmond Public Schools; The City of Richmond’s Department of Justice Services; Restorative Youth Services of Virginia and The Communities In Schools Department staff at Armstrong. During this first year of operation, the program will target all 9th graders; Performance Learning Center students; transfer students; and students who are returning to school after having been suspended, expelled or released from juvenile correctional facilities.
As the clock ticks down to the first day of school, staffs of the various implementing agencies including volunteers are putting the final touches on the program in anticipation of positively impacting the overall strength of Armstrong’s school community and greatly reducing the number of conflicts, violent altercations, and interventions by members of the juvenile justice system and the courts.
Hopefully, one day very soon, when we hear the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child”, we will think of Armstrong’s Restorative Justice Program and have a better sense of how to give meaning to this concept.