This past summer, I seemed unable to avoid juicy tidbits that made it to my desk regarding the Longmont High School Restorative Justice Team. Having moved to Colorado from the East has provided enough of a shock in itself, by way of the sheer number of folks who have actually heard of, let alone practice, Restorative Justice. So when I learned that teenagers were facilitating circles, organizing pre-conferences, and even training younger students, I paused. The notion stirred my interest and a pinch perhaps of something akin to mischief; a tinge risen from that old longing to question dynamics of power in relation-systems.
Having been thus stirred, I set out to find these social revolutionaries with the aim of recording an interview for this very blog. What I got instead was a reminder. "We're just ordinary kids and we want things to be fair. No more, no less." Nor did I get my interview. Instead, Sophomore Savannah Iverson, told me to step aside. She would write an article herself. Her thoughts about justice, 2nd chances and what it means to be a teenager will be posted in this 3 post series. Without further adieu, 15 year old, Savannah Iverson.
What your about to read in this blog article, is a little about how I have changed over the past year, after joining the Restorative Justice (RJ) student team. I joined the team the summer before freshman year.First though, let me give a brief description of the Longmont High School RJ Team. We are a team of roughly 20 student facilitators that practice Restorative Justice in 3 schools in the SVVSD. It’s a program run by student facilitators for students in conflict.
Before I went into my freshman year of High School, I was very shy and conservative and I tried to keep out of the spotlight. I really just wanted to stay out of the way of everybody, and just get the feel of high school before I jumped into anything. But I slowly started seeing things change as the year went on, and I started becoming more involved with the RJ program.
Before I joined the RJ team, I often played supporting roles—whether it was in drama, basketball or even group projects in class. I didn’t really want to speak out or be the leader. I would rather just sit back unless I really needed to. After I joined and started being a more active member, I notice that I automatically took on that leadership role, and I feel confident that I am a good leader. I feel like I know what I am doing, and I recognize what needs to happen and figure out what needs to be done. I am able to analyze the situation better, and think about different outcomes. I am really good at giving options, soliciting feedback from my peers and making sure that everyone has a voice and say. As a group, we usually end up finding a good outcome, and the group as a whole decides what is best. It’s extremely similar to a circle process, the wisdom of the group is really important.
When getting to LHS Freshman year, not really knowing what to expect, I stayed around what I knew the best, which was RJ because I did my trainings over the summer and I sat in quite a few circles from the community program. Within the first two weeks of school, I was already Co-facilitating, and leading connection circles at team meetings. I really didn’t spend much time as a community member, but instead moved straight into facilitating. Team facilitating was really good for me because I got to work with other people, I got the opportunity to observe how they lead the circle and learn from their skills, and start to practice how I could use them. One of the things that I learned to do really well was to ask good follow up questions to get a better understanding of the story that is being told. I learned to handle heightened emotions from the referred student and their parents. I also learned how to manage my own anxiety in the face of that. I feel like I am more confident at upholding ground rules, keeping things respectful, carefully and skillfully naming the challenging behavior and switching back to respecting and following the ground rules.
I have noticed that my ability to talk to many different types of people has increased. Before freshman year, I knew how I was “supposed” to communicate, but now I feel more confident in using the communication skills that I have naturally. I am much better at working with parents, modulating my tone and learning to switch between talking to adults and kids. I have a better understanding how to be more professional, and I am better at recognizing emotions, small signals and body language. I know how to relate to people of all ages, I have become more of an active listener and knowing what that entails. When I speak, my thoughts are more organized and clear, and I try to use "I Statements" as much as possible but that is still a work in progress, because that really is not always an easy thing to do.
Tune in on Wednesday to read "Savannah" part 2. -Ben