Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
Peace and Justice
December 2015
In This Issue

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Dear Educators,

At this holiday season, in a world filled with too much hatred and violence, CEI is choosing to focus on some stellar examples of what schools could be doing and are doing to ground youth in activities that are so very relevant to the present and their futures. 

Whether it be exploring ways to infuse peace making into classrooms, implementing programs of restorative justice, or delving into direct actions so that youth participate in environmental justice, we believe you will find inspiration for creating experiences for your students and your schools.
Peace: How Students Today Are Learning about Peace
By Christine Mason, Ph.D. and Marcella Hayes, CEI Intern
When we think of the peace, one of the first things that comes to mind is a beach with tranquil waters. Scenes from nature. A quiet, peaceful meadow. Perhaps the feeling that comes to us during meditation. And then, the images of "bringing about peace" -- envisioning people setting guns aside, hoisting a white flag of surrender, caring leaders greeting each other as conflicts are resolved, or even a white dove circling the globe, perhaps with an olive branch. Envisioning peace in classrooms, we imagine calmness and kindness, where everyone is respectful of others, cooperating and helpful. With our commitment to peace, we visualize a growing number of classrooms that both promote learning and also help children resolve issues from their past or current circumstances. Such an environment could assist students in resolving conflicts peacefully in situations extending well into their futures. Consider, for example, a child who is angry about a parent's divorce. The anger issues could be resolved by learning peaceful coping mechanisms to help conquer or overcome the child's anger. 

Role Plays in Classrooms. In schools, teachers and administrators could set a good example by exhibiting peaceful behaviors and even talking to children about how they are themselves managing their anger, showing compassion, or considering the needs of others. Another tactic teachers and counselors could use is role playing, with scenarios where children consider peaceful and other options for handling stressful situations. With younger students, teachers could set up and act out scenarios with children. For example, when two children want to play with a toy and one student grabs the toy from the other, the teacher could talk with both students in a calm voice about how to use their words without hitting or grabbing. Perhaps the teacher could play the role of the child who has been hit: "Please stop hurting me; how long are you going to have the toy; could I have the toy in one or two minutes?" The second student would be guided to respond, "Sure - in two minutes."

Peace First
While CEI is interested in promoting peace as part of our heart centered approach to education, other organizations are dedicated to peacemaking as well. Founded in 1992 at Harvard University, Peace First was established to "create the next generation of peacemakers." Peace First
initially called Peace Games was established as a festival to unite children in playing cooperative games and sharing their visions for peace. What began as a one-day event is now a national movement.

Peace First operates two primary programs.
  • The Digital Activity Center provides an experiential curriculum customized to meet the developmental needs of youth and help them with friendship, fairness, cooperation, conflict resolution, and consequences of actions 
  • The Peace First Prize showcases youth who have infused peacemaking in their daily lives. Awards are given for courage, compassion, and collaborative change.
Three schools are flagship Peace First schools: the Mission Grammar School in Boston,  the Lillian Weber School of the Arts in New Yorkand the 186th Street Elementary School in Los AngelesTo provide one example of activities at these schools, in 2013 the 186th Street school conducted a Martin Luther King Peace March.
In 2015, five students were selected as Peace First Fellows because of their compassion, courage and ability to collaborate with others The five winners were:
  • Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, age 15, Boulder, CO: Xiuhtezcatl founded Rising Youth for Sustainable Earth (RYSE), a project where youth leaders and a council of elders plan global actions to address climate change. Xiuhtezcatl spoke at the UN General Assembly on Climate Change on June 29, 2015. Xiuhtezcatl's Prize application video can be viewed here.
  • Yasmine Arrington, age 22, Washington, DC: Yasmine's organization, ScholarCHIPS, supports children of incarcerated parents with college scholarships, mentoring, and a sense of community. Yasmine pursued higher education despite the stigma of her father's imprisonment throughout her childhood. Yasmine's Prize application video can be viewed here.
  • Grace Callwood, age 10, Abingdon, MD: Grace, a cancer survivor, founded the We Cancerve Movement in 2011.The We Cancerve Movement has donated over 150 outfits and 60 coats to the homeless, and hosted beauty, movie, pizza and dance party nights for teen foster girls. Grace's Prize application video can be viewed here.
  • Jasmine Babers, age 19, Rock Island, IL: Jasmine founded Love GIRLS Magazine, which distributes 12,000 free copies nationally and sponsors the Love Awards ceremony, to promote self-esteem and confidence. Jasmine published the magazine after seeing the devastating effects of bullying, to create a space where girls uplift each other up. Jasmine's Prize application video can be viewed here.
  • Brennan Lewis, age 18, Apex, NC: Brennan's organization, Queer NC, is a safe space for LGBTQ youth in rural North Carolina to connect with each other to make positive changes in their communities. Queer NC serves 500 youth in NC through meetups, social media, seminars, leadership trainings, and dances. An additional 80 youth have participated in QueerNC's ASPYRE leadership camp, an annual weekend-long camp that empowers and assists participants as they design their own action plans for positive change. Brennan's Prize application video can be viewed here.
            Peace is so vital; especially in today's world. Our vision is to begin with toddlers, teaching children how to negotiate and problem solve and to continue to build repertoires of "peaceful thoughts and strategies" throughout the individual's life span.  What greater gift could schools provide to the communities they serve than to bring about a next generation of peacemakers?
Restorative Justice in Schools 
By Donald Kim, CEI Intern 
 Oakland schools, like many school districts, struggle with misbehavior and punishment. Oakland's overall rate of suspension was around 7% in 2011-2012, and although black students make up 32% of Oakland's student population, they also make up 63% of all suspensions. In response to this finding, the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights partnered with the school district to implement a restorative justice program. The Oakland Unified School District gradually adopted restorative justice programs; suspensions were reduced by 51% from 2012-2013 (Khadaroo, 2015).

What is Restorative Justice? Restorative justice is an approach to criminal justice that rehabilitates offenders by reconciling victims and the community at large. Restorative justice is a process that seeks to take a value-based approach to conflict - a process that gives attention to offender, victim, and community. The ideology of restorative justice comes naturally to most, and can create long lasting solutions instead of short-term fixes. Restorative justice programs deal with problems at an individual level, instead of distributing standardized punishments for varying situations.

Within the past 20 years, restorative justice has been implemented in schools - starting in Australia in 1994. Countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Canada, and Brazil use restorative justice ideologies as a common alternative to traditional discipline systems. Various studies show that restorative justice programs demonstrate effectiveness regardless of school composition; however, schools with higher black populations are less likely to adopt restorative justice programs (Payne & Welch, 2015). These findings suggest that despite the success of restorative justice programs in schools that adopt them, there still remains need for increased awareness and implementation of restorative justice.

Why is Restorative Justice Important?
Punishment, including the traditional zero-tolerance approach, is often the standard procedure for dealing with behavior problems at schools. However, punitive approaches have several drawbacks:
  • Punishment is often ineffective, and can exacerbate unhealthy school cultures by layering on negativity.
  • Students of color disproportionally receive suspensions and expulsions almost three times the rate of white students.
  • Traditional punitive approaches do not teach students about how to be more positive or more appropriate. Rather, punishment focuses solely on reducing or eliminating the unwanted behaviors.
  • Zero-tolerance approaches do not effectively address underlying problems such as violent school or community cultures, drug use, low self-esteem, or academic failure.

How is Restorative Justice Implemented?
With a restorative justice approach, mediators seek to ask and answer these questions: "Who has been hurt? What are their needs? Whose obligations are they? What are the causes? Who has a "stake" in this? What is the appropriate process to involve stakeholders in an effort to put things right?"

With restorative justice, often the questions are first directed to those who have been harmed or endangered. This may be followed by questions of bystanders who might have been witnesses. Finally, questions are asked of those who committed the offense (Amstutz, 2015). By mending relationships instead of distributing punishment, recurring misbehavior such as bullying and violence are reduced.

An essential difference between traditional methods and restorative justice is the inclusion of all parties. The offender under the traditional system has little to no say on what offenses they've enacted. Additionally, the victim usually has few opportunities to dialogue with the offender in a setting where mediator helps guide the discussion. Restorative justice is a more democratic form of justice, and it is a form of justice that seeks to facilitate community and understanding instead of swift punishment.

What Do Restorative Justice Programs Look Like in Schools?
Restorative justice programs are typically implemented with mediators (who may be counselors, teachers, administrators, or even peer mediators). Some schools implement circle-meetings that are mediated to discuss and process a specific problem in the community. Schools bring the person who created harm and the person/persons harmed together, in order to understand the problem, understand the views on the problem, and come to a plan to reconcile what has occurred. In this method, the one who committed the offense is held accountable by the one harmed and the community. This increases the likelihood of changes in behavior. The contrast with zero-tolerance is striking. With zero-tolerance, students may brush off the punishment and not understand their wrongdoings. When students who have been engaged in conflict begin to understand each other, they are more likely to consider the other person rather than rush into behaviors that can escalate problems.

To be most effective, principals need to be involved in ensuring that restorative justice is used with consistency -- that teachers, counselors, and all staff use restorative justice as their "go to" approach when incidents occur. We recommend that you involve parents and community leaders in its implementation, so that restorative justice is understood by and embraced by the community.

At Oakland High School (see paragraph #1 above), teachers and administrators have set up common expectations, and help students who have trouble meeting those expectations improve. Teachers are given training on how to more effectively support students, in order to prevent the need for suspensions. There is also a specific teacher who is present to mediate discussions and resolve conflict. Misbehavior and punishment are far from gone in Oakland schools, but these schools are making great progress.

Here are some useful resources for learning more about restorative justice:
  • This site has a great list of articles, written by Howard Zehr, dealing with restorative justice in a variety of fields and contexts. The institute is Co-directed by leaders of Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) Howard Zehr, distinguished professor of restorative justice & Carl Stauffer, assistant professor of justice and development studies.  Zehr is considered as the "grandfather of restorative justice."  He hopes to spread knowledge and facilitate discussion regarding restorative justice.  The institute was founded in 2012.  
  • This blog entry has a list of guides for implementing restorative justice, a list of successful school implementations, and a list of tips on restorative justice. 
  • This useful resource provides a quick overview of restorative justice, and has a library of articles under the "RJ Library" tab. 

Amstutz, L. (2015). The little book of restorative discipline for schools: Teaching responsibility; creating caring climates. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

Khadaroo, S. (2013, March 31). Restorative justice: One high school's path to reducing suspensions by half. Christian Science Monitor.

Payne, A. A.; & Welch, K. (2015) Restorative justice in schools: The influence of race on restorative discipline. Youth & Society 47, 4, 539-564.

Ryan, T. G.& Ruddy, S. (2015) Restorative justice: A changing community response. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education 7.2, 253-262.
Environmental Justice: Ways to Be Involved
Amy Osborne, CEI Intern 
Schools today have opportunities to collaborate with their local communities to gain first had experiences protecting and cleaning up the environment. There are many ways that principals can create and promote environmental justice as school-wide programs to further understanding, compassion, and equitable solutions to environmental problems.  

Environmental justice, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is the "meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies." It also calls for the fair treatment of all citizens with respect to the distribution of environmental risks. Unfortunately, this is where we run into the some of the most challenging issues of today. The National Resources Defense Council states: "It's a statistical fact: The poor and people of color are more likely to live in America's most-polluted neighborhoods. Poor communities are routinely targeted to host facilities with negative environmental impacts, such as landfills, factories, truck depots and more" (Skelton & Miller, 2006).
Distributional justicea sub category of environmental justice, refers to the physical distribution of environmental benefits and burdens., which includes: 
  • "Unequal siting of landfills
  • Unequal siting of pollution industries
  • Unequal extraction of natural resources
  • Disparate access to recreational space
  • Disparate exposure to toxiants on the job
  • Unequal arrangement of public infrastructure, such as highways, public transportation, garbage collection, etc." (DEOHS, 2015)
Given the long-term location of waste sites, environmental pollution, and health hazards, and the costs involved in rectifying problems, obtaining environmental and distributional justice is a complex task. This task calls for not only distributional justice, but also, as identified by DEOHS, "process" and "procedural" justice. Process and procedural justice address the need for fairness in the provision of resources to clean up environmental pollution and in providing accessible information on risks to communities.

Efforts to clean up communities began in the early 1960s when poor farm workers fought for workplace rights, including protection from toxic pesticides in California farm fields. Since then, the environmental movement continued to gain momentum and by 1990, the U.S. EPA's Office of Environmental Equity was established. In 1992, during the Clinton administration, environmental justice became federal government policy, which directed federal agencies to look for ways to prevent discrimination by race, nationality, or socioeconomic status. Since then, many grassroots organizations have been formed, including: the Concerned Citizens of South Central (Los Angeles), West Harlem Environmental Action, the Louisiana Avatar Project, and Mothers of East L.A. (Skelton and Miller, 2006)

Combating Pollution. Today, several organizations continue to combat urban pollution and are working to restore the local environment. For example, the Bronx River Restoration Projects 
aim to improve water quality by eliminating pollution inputs, such as storm water from combined sewer outfalls. The goal of NYC Government Parks is to improve water quality while also increasing plant diversity, implementing erosion control practices, and removing existing garbage and rubble from the tidal wetlands (NYC Parks, 2015). Collectively, the goal of these kinds of organizations is to not only clean up the environment, but to educate the community on the importance of reducing the effects of pollution.

Involving Schools. The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park 
provides educational programs for school groups that teach the basics of forest ecology, nature awareness, freshwater ecology, and garden explorations. These programs give students hands-on experience in the areas of conservation, sustainability, and beneficial environmental practices. Among the programs are:
  • Exploring Bronx Forests, a 30-hour course for NYC teachers that is designed to bring nature into the classroom. Includes the Butterfly Project, Project WILD, Compost Project, Flying Wild, Project Learning Tree and more, in addition to introducing teachers to local environmental resources."
  • Forester for a Day, a two-part program on forest ecology, survival, tree planting and conservation. Students have the opportunity to plant trees and shrubs along the trail in an effort to help restore it.
  • Nature Awareness. Students hike along the John Kieran Trail and experience the authentic and natural surroundings.
  • Freshwater Ecology. Students hone their biology skills while testing several variables in Van Cortlandt Lake including pH and turbidity. Students are provided nets to collect insects and fish, which are examined under their microscopes.
  • Garden Explorations. Students explore the park's Butterfly Garden, Compost Bins, and Vegetable Bed.
Environmental Internships.  High school students also have opportunities to take an active role in improving the environment through Van Cortlandt programs. The Environmental Internship provides youth with experiences in such areas as tree and bird identification, water quality testing, forest ecology, composting fundamentals, and trail maintenance. The Summer Teens Trails Crew is another option offered by Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. Over 600 teenagers have been brought in over the course of 14 years to help preserve and protect the park by completing a multitude of tasks such as "trail building, brochure design, native species planting, and lake monitoring." With a relatively new internship program--the Youthmarket Internship-- teens operate two farm stands to provide their community with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Similar programs can be found nationwide, for example

Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS). (2015). Environmental Justice.
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. (2015). Bronx River restoration projects.

Skelton, R., & Miller, V. (2006). The environmental justice movement. Natural Defense Council

Peace for all -

Peace be with you, your students, and your community during this holiday season.  Wishing all blessings - with visions of sugar plums, celebrations, and much joy.

Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement