Restoring Community

Dawn Squire with studentsIIRP student Dawn Squire is passionate about helping children and families in her community of high-poverty York, Pennsylvania. Her IIRP education has given her the confidence to transform her concerns into actions that have tangible, lasting impact.

Dawn works at McKinley K-8 school, where 99.5% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. As Family Involvement Coordinator, she assists children and families, many of whom are homeless or transient.

“From the moment I walk through the doors, we are ceaselessly working to make students, staff and families feel valued and heard,” explains Dawn. “This is more than just nice words. We really demonstrate that we are doing something different to make sure people know they are important.”

Dawn SquireShe begins the school year with a fun orientation introducing children and families to school norms, including restorative practices. With so many transient students, anyone who arrives anytime receives the same orientation. The goal is to “create a sense of mutual responsibility for the education process with students, families and ourselves.”

Behavioral accountability is fundamental to the restorative approach at McKinley. When a kindergartener spit on someone in the cafeteria, Dawn guided the girl in answering the restorative questions, from “What were you thinking about at the time?” to “How can you make it right?”

Yet being mindful of student trauma is also important. “A student may be going through homelessness, or mom may be struggling to get clean,” Dawn points out. “We hold students to a high standard. But we’re very much aware of factors that may be impacting their education and social emotional abilities.”

Dawn’s restorative work reaches well beyond McKinley K-8. She’s very concerned about York’s homelessness crisis. A mother of five, Dawn welcomed a boy who had nowhere to live into her family for three years, and “witnessed firsthand the tragedy and challenges.”

Then at the IIRP, she engaged in action research, which propelled her to answer concretely: “HoMcKinley studentsw do we handle homelessness better as a community?” Now she’s working with a group to open a dormitory for York’s homeless children.

Staff at the dormitory will be trained in restorative practices and trauma-informed care. Beginning with 12 students, the dorm will house students Sundays–Thursdays. They’ll return to their families on weekends when possible. There will be circles in the evenings and family meetings Sunday nights. “We’ll assess their strengths, hold them accountable and share the message that they are their own best solution,” pledges Dawn.

“The IIRP gives people encouragement and tangible tools to make a difference in their community,” Dawn concludes. “A lot of kids will be the beneficiaries of this.”

Like most of our graduate students, Dawn could not afford to pay for her IIRP education without our Pay-it-Forward Scholarship program. You can help ensure that money isn't an obstacle for students who are motivated to learn and serve their communities by making a donation at iirp.edu/give.