MONTE VISTA—Teens in need have a safe place at Monte Vista High School. In the fourth year of restorative justice practices a special room has been constructed by Melissa Harlan and the SHOCK (Students Helping Our Community and Kids) Club.
Known as the TIN (Teens in Need) Room the space is designed to give students who may be experiencing a difficult timea place to talk to peer mediators and adults who are trained to help them make better decisions or think through their actions.
“Instead of always punishing at-risk kids, since there’s research that shows the more punishment they receive the more it pushes and harms them more, we’re trying a different approach of restorative practices and positive reinforcement. We try to get to the root of the problem. We provide peer counseling. Last year the SHOCK group came up with this idea.
It’s a room where kids can go if they are in In-School Detention instead of just being in the punishment area with four walls they also come over here to a more inviting space where they can talk to peer counselors and adults about why they’re making the choices they are. We try to help them make better choices. Rather than it just being totally punitive it’s more of a restorative approach,” said Harlan.
The SHOCK group constructed and decorated the room. There are lights, couches and a desk. The main lights can also be turned off to make a calming mood which can help students feel even more at ease.
The room concept follows the five Rs of restorative justice: Relationship, Repair, Respect, Responsibility and Reintegration. The ideas are placed on the wall in the form of respect, we can fix this, you need to be responsible and we need to get along.
Five members of SHOCK have taken their involvement a step further by submitting essays about why they wanted to be a part of Monte Vista’s peer mediation program. The members were trained to be peer mediators. In the TIN room peer mediation is practice. There is also formal mediation with trained professional mediators if the situation warrants, such as a fight or times that are inappropriate for peer mediation.
“We’ve actually already had mediations a few times this year. It’s been successful. We’ve been able to resolve some pretty serious conflicts with peer mediation. Instead of them only going to the principal and getting yelled at we try to get students to come together and talk things out. We try to understand each other’s perspective. Sometimes kids will open up more if the mediation is done by a fellow student so the peer mediators have been trained,” said Harlan.
High School Principal Scott Wiedeman is impressed and pleased with the results so far. “I think it’s brought a preventative measure. I think if there’s going to be a problem between kids or kids and a teacher or even teacher to teacher, we can try this before they get in trouble. We can start the process before it gets there. We do have the restorative part where there is a fight or something or disrespect we give them the chance to work out with a peer mediator or a professional mediator. It’s worked wonders for us. We still have that punitive part but there’s still the restorative. The kids come up with a behavior plan. It’s been really good for us. It’s been a lot of hard work; I commend Ms. Harlan, SHOCK and Honey Stoechen. It hasn’t gotten rid of all of our problems but it’s been a huge help and it’s good to be proactive,” he said.
Honey Stoechen who works for the Center for Restorative Practices has also been an integral part in helping to develop these strategies. Harlan said that when Stoechen learned of SHOCK she felt the pieces were already in place and helped to take the program to new heights.
“I’m just really excited to be part of the school and working with Melissa and Scott. They have done a great job doing what’s best for kids— that is trying to keep students in our school and community and dealing with conflict ourselves in a way that is emotionally supportive. The TIN room is a great place for students to feel that they have a place to go to during the school day when things do happen that are outside of their emotional control. They don’t have to go home. If there’s a problem in the classroom they don’t need to leave. They can talk out and refocus and get back to their educational day. We’ve seen some really good work come out of the TIN room so far. A lot of kids have severe trauma. Kids get to circle up and share stories and listen to one another and find common ground. They realize through the day there are other kids going through the same things and understand we are a school family. I’m really proud of Mr. Wiedemen and especially Ms. Harlan for putting this together and really doing what’s best. We’re really trying to reach kids socially and emotionally. It used to be just about test scores and performance. There have been many programs to target academics. This is about meeting social and emotional needs. It’s about looking out for kids and really keeping them in our school and in our community,” said Stoechen.