Saturday, September 12, 2015

The restorative work of the Depot: Reflections on my third week

The illegal fire pit we were charged with disassembling.
 It's not the kind of thing you just do and it's done. When people are your product, it's always a work in progress.

That's the big thing that's stuck in my head this week, after my third week at the Depot.

We had some really cool wins this week, beginning with a great time moving big rocks with a trail crew. As we disassembled a fire pit someone had built "illegally" along the trail, we worked hard together, accomplished our goal, and as we cleaned up beer bottles, ended up chatting about college parties, drinking, and date rape.

Students are gradually getting themselves set-up with some pretty cool job shadows and internships, and they cooked up a very successful breakfast of pancakes and eggs on Friday (though I hadn't bought enough eggs). And the dance-a-thon fitness class option we held on Friday in the big room was a big hit, with 8 or nine students dancing for nearly the entire hour to dance music played from YouTube.

But there were also challenges. My vision of discipline is not to punish, but to restore and support. When there is conflict between students, anti-social or unsafe behavior, rule-breaking, or whatever, my vision is that instead of some punishment or penalty, I would say, in effect, "Congratulations, Suzie, you've just been enrolled in our intensive relational/behavioral support program. Let's start with a chat about the best ways to deal with conflict, treat your peers and advisors, drive your car in the parking lot, etc. And then let's come up with a plan for how you will learn how to improve in this area and demonstrate that learning. And let's make sure we check in together every week to see how you are progressing."

At this point there are already several students who have been "enrolled" and are on my list for weekly follow-up, and I am realizing that consistency and persistence will be the keys to success in this approach. To really support and restore will take lots of time and effort.

After we disposed of the fire pit.
I found out this approach is called restorative justice or restorative discipline, and  I'm looking forward to researching it further. It looks like I'll have plenty of practice, and I'm looking forward to that as well. It's in this gritty, raw world of real conflict, struggle, and conversation that that lives are really changed, theirs and mine. And that's what's so challenging and rewarding (at the same time) about this job.

Most likely, the fire pit will come back. I'm told it's been disassembled by town personnel before. But that's OK. We'll be back next year to clean it up again. Life, and humanity, is like that.

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