“After two years of restorative practices, there are no more ‘habitual offenders’ at Liberty and Freedom high schools. And there has been a 50 percent drop in expulsions,” Dr. Joseph Roy, superintendent of the Bethlehem Area School District, told guests at Celebrating Restorative Works, a Restorative Practices Foundation fundraising breakfast in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA, on Sunday, March 30, 2014.
Dr. Roy explained, “With restorative practices, students are staying in school and learning.” Instead of exclusion for misbehavior, the focus is on building relationships and holding students accountable. Liberty and Freedom are the first schools to participate in Bethlehem’s planned district-wide restorative practices initiative, with the IIRP Graduate School’s SaferSanerSchools Whole-School Change Program.
A panel of speakers shared stories about the impact restorative practices can have on young people, their families and communities, including Dr. Roy and others implementing the practices in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania and beyond.
But it was 16-year old Robbie Cook and his dad, Robert, whose story had the strongest emotional impact. Robbie’s behavior was so out of control that Robert had him legally barred from their home. Everything Robert tried had failed, and he had given up hope. But then Robbie enrolled in Community Service Foundation and Buxmont Academy (IIRP model programs).
Staff at CSF Buxmont worked with Robbie to hold him accountable and support him in making changes. They also involved his father Robert in weekly counseling sessions. “Because of restorative practices, I now have my son back,” said Robert. “CSF made a big difference in my life,” said Robbie, who is now back home and excelling in school.
More panelists told restorative stories, introduced by mistress of ceremonies, Philadelphia attorney and Restorative Practices Foundation board member Kay Yu, and welcomed by IIRP president and founder Ted Wachtel:
• Shannon Mayfield, former principal of Allentown, Pennsylvania’s, William Allen High School, talked about how restorative practices helped build a stronger school community there. Now the practices are helping him meet new challenges as principal of Overbrook High School in Philadelphia.
• Lisa Cofield, 2011 IIRP alumna and coordinator of CSF Buxmont in Woodlyn, Pennsylvania, said that one of her students transformed from a caterpillar into a butterfly, from being challenging and disrespectful and harming herself to being positive, engaged and supportive of her peers.
• Yvonne Platts, 2012 IIRP alumna and an anti-oppression workshop facilitator at Roots of Justice, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, talked of her work using circles with a group of girls once known for fighting and disruption who are now modeling restorative behavior for their peers.
• Julia Getty, 2012 IIRP alumna and Wellness Coordinator at The Swain School in Allentown, read a letter from Dr. Lynn McRoy, whose daughter, Annalise Sheppard, was struggling with behavioral issues and self-harm until she was able to turn her life around at CSF Buxmont.
When the storytellers had finished, Restorative Practices Foundation board member and IIRP trustee Bill Ballantine appealed to the breakfast guests to provide support for restorative practices. Their donations will address such matters as scholarships for needy IIRP graduate students like Lisa and Yvonne, who would not have been able to attend without them, and programs and schools like Liberty and Freedom high schools, where the IIRP donated SaferSanerSchools Whole-School Change Program implementation.
The Restorative Practices Foundation is the fundraising division of the International Institute for Restorative Practices and Community Service Foundation & Buxmont Academy.