Restorative Justice in Schools - Lancaster Catholic High School - Part 2

Restorative Justice in Schools - Lancaster Catholic High School - Part 2

Adrienne Howe, the new Director of Restorative Justice at Lancaster Catholic High School, knows a lot about the importance of “second chances.” For six years before taking this new position at LCHS, Adrienne worked for Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole, helping people coming out of prison to get out of the cycle of crime and incarceration to become successful. She headed up Lancaster County’s Job Court, a groundbreaking and successful program, believed to be the only one of its kind in the US, that was designed to keep offenders from cycling back into prison by providing them with job skills training and helping them get employment.

Unfortunately, Lancaster’s Job Court was shut down earlier this year.

Howe wanted to find another place, she says, “where I could do something meaningful, to feel like I was helping people.” When she read the description of the new Director of Restorative Justice position at LCHS, something clicked. “I had already done this type of work with adults who had made very serious mistakes. I felt I had a lot to offer from that experience, and that I could really help kids before they got into serious trouble,” she says.

When LCHS Principal, Tom Fertal, created the new position, he knew that the school would be heading into uncharted territory trying to implement restorative justice. He realized that it would take time for everyone to get on board with using this new approach rather than their traditional approaches to student discipline. When Fertal interviewed Adrienne for the job, he asked her how much experience she’d had promoting ideas that might not be popular.

“She said, ‘Well, I was able to convince a lot of employers to hire people with criminal records’,” Fertal recalls. “When she said that, I knew she could handle this job.”

Adrienne got off to a running start, attending restorative justice training then returning to the school to run an in-service for the entire staff before school started.

“Initially, my goal is to just keep restorative justice in everyone’s mind,” she explains. “I want to keep teachers and staff thinking about how to use it when situations come up.” A restorative justice team of teachers and staff members works with Adrienne to discuss various discipline cases and how to use restorative justice.

She describes a recent situation. “One tough, angry girl was saying she was going to punch another girl. The girl has been in trouble before and often makes violent threats and acts confrontational. I asked her to come and talk with me. After explaining restorative justice to her, she asked for a three person meeting with me, her and the other girl.”

Adrienne met with the two girls a few days later. After setting some ground rules, she gave each girl a chance to speak her mind. It turned out each of the girls had heard rumors that the other was talking about her behind her back. The girls talked about the fact that they used to be friends.

“I could see that each of them was hurt that that wasn’t the case any more,” Adrienne reports. “They weren’t necessarily going to jump right back into their friendship again, but they agreed that they wouldn’t jump to conclusions about each other any more. They agreed that the next time one of them heard that the other had been talking about them, they’d respectfully go to the other girl instead of assuming the worst and believing what they heard from other students.”

Adrienne has since checked in with each of the girls and both reported that things have been much better between them since their meeting. Ultimately, that’s what Adrienne hopes can happen as a result of taking a restorative justice approach.

In a recent letter to school staff about the LCHS implementation of restorative justice, Adrienne writes, “You might be asking, ‘What are we restoring?’ We are restoring the relationships that make our school what it is: a family that respects and cares about the future of every person inside.”

OTHER ARTICLES IN MY SERIES ON SCHOOL DISCIPLINE:

Schools and “zero tolerance”

Restorative justice in schools

Peer mediation in schools

Schools and bullying prevention

Restorative justice in schools – LCHS Part 1

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