Restoring Community

Twenty community members from across the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, USA, met Tuesday, March 26, to hear about creating a "restorative zone."

The meeting was led by IIRP president Ted Wachtel and  assistant professor and director of continuing education John Bailie, with presentations by Bethlehem Area School District supervisor of minority affairs Vivian Robledo-Shorey and Allentown School District executive director of community & student services Susan Lozada.

Participants included a Pennsylvania state police officer, Allentown Mayor's Office and the Lehigh Valley District Attorney's Office representatives, Allentown and Bethlehem school district administrators, a Lehigh University professor, an attorney, several pastors, community center leaders and social services providers.

The meeting began with a a classic restorative practice: a talking circle for each participant to say their name, position and what they hoped to get out of the meeting. People spoke to the desire to support the children and youth of the Lehigh Valley — from babyhood to adolescence and beyond — and to their wish to connect with their communities and congregations, reduce violence and learn what restorative practices are all about.

Ted Wachtel presented a brief primer on the practices, referring to his piece, Defining Restorative, and explained the concept behind the "restorative zone." In the Lehigh Valley, the four Bethlehem and Allentown high schools are implementing restorative practices and beginning to see very promising results, including decreased discipline problems and stronger school communities, with the practices influencing kids' behavior in the wider community. The hope is that these positive outcomes can provide a springboard for change beyond the school walls into the surrounding community: a restorative zone.

Bethlehem's Vivian Robledo-Shorey and Allentown's Susan Lozada talked about how restorative practices are not only improving kids' behavior but also impacting the adults who work with them. Kids understand restorative right away; getting the adults on board is the hard part. But restorative practices are giving the educators they work with the opportunity to share successes and help each other with challenges.

"We've seen big changes in discipline, attendance and atmosphere," said Robledo-Shorey, "and the teachers and principals actually want to be here." Lozada added that the practices had helped educators address the most important question of all: "Do you really believe in all kids; not just the 'gifted' ones?"

The IIRP's John Bailie stressed the applicability of restorative practices to settings beyond schools, e.g., the New York City Department of Juvenile Probation and the Detroit Police Department and faith communities.

In a final go-around, each participant shared one word to express their feelings about the meeting: Impressed. Encouraged. Connected. Considering. Exciting. Inspired. Thoughtful. Hopeful. Several lingered, eager to network and learn more.