The power of a restorative justice circle is amazing. Simply amazing.
In a Safe Teen Driving Circle, students are facing each other, they contribute values to the center, they share who they thought of to pick their value. Each voice is heard a few times before our storyteller.
The storyteller is moving, gripping, and often makes us cry.
I look around at the people in Circle with me. I see a sweatshirt pulled up under both eyes, as a place to catch tears. I see concerned faces, I see lowered eyes. The silence of only one person speaking, and the emotional weight in the room is serious.
The Circle participants are given a chance after hearing the story, to ‘reflect’, ‘respond’, ‘react’ to the story. The space created by the focus on values, and the story makes our circle strong. So strong students share their own pain. A family member in a near fatal crash, the death of a parent, the car crash that killed three peers. Those that don’t have a story, tear up when classmates are tearfully sharing. Some choke up at the mere mention of how the story made them think about losing a sibling, or inflicting that kind of pain on a family member. Young people now understand why Mom, is concerned. The bond in the Circle is strong.
The Circle members are now asked for a public committment. Every single student offers a specific behavior they will do or not do. Wear my seatbelt, not drink and drive, not text, follow speed limits. The specific countermeasures to traffic deaths of our young people are voiced again and again.
The Circle members offer feedback on the Circle itself. One young man simply stated: The Circle was the BEST thing EVER.
We close the Circle with a reading, and encouragement to speak to your loved ones, noting that a change of behavior by a change of heart means we “feel” it. The students leave class quietly, thanking the storyteller as they file past. The storyteller offers hugs and support to the young people that shared deeply with the Circle.
The teacher, a very connected to her students teacher, approaches me, amazed “I didn’t know half those stories”. I smile. Its the power of the Circle. How lucky we are to know the stories now.
The storyteller and I read over the evaluations, the young people write out so much. They express such thanks, gratitude and reinforce that the experience really changed their perspectives. We have 97% of those that participate saying the speaker made a “great deal” of impact. Student that made a public committment 98%, the public committment came from the Allstate Foundation research that youth are more likely to do a behavior they tell their peers they will do (vs what they tell parents).
This program saves lives, I don’t doubt it for a minute. The relationships we create between students, and the value we show students regarding their relationships to family, is worth every second of effort we put into it.
I’ve got to get this book written.