Restorative justice and arts programming from Alternatives, Inc. makes strides with Chicago youth

Two Alternatives, Inc. programs (restorative justice and urban arts) at five high-need schools in Austin, Englewood, Roseland, and South Shore are receiving continued funding from Get IN Chicago for 2016-2017.  The restorative justice program provides an alternative to suspensions, which have recently come into question as effective discipline for high-risk youth.  For example, 30% of Chicago Public School students who received out-of-school suspensions in 2013-2014 had a history of documented abuse and neglect. Out of school time may actually increase these youths’ relative risk for trauma, violence or victimization.  In many cases, suspensions and expulsions remove what little supports these young people may have.

Restorative justice programming empowers students to be leaders in violence prevention, conflict resolution, and school safety.  The Alternatives, Inc. program uses one-on-one conversations, peer conferences, and peace circles, all led by a team of staff, trained teachers, and youth Peace Ambassadors, to provide alternative responses to disciplinary infractions and conflict at school.  The program is designed to support youth to develop self-awareness and self-management skills, establish and maintain positive relationships, and demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in all aspects of their lives.

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Peace Rooms at each school provide a safe space for students to discuss conflicts and strategy with eachother and Alternatives staff.

In Spring 2016, Get IN Chicago awarded Alternatives, Inc. additional funding to add the Urban Arts program to its restorative justice work.  Urban Arts uses dance, theatre, spoken word, and visual arts to guide youth development in expression, goal-setting, communication, teamwork, and decision- making. This new program component deepens Alternatives’ reach and impact with students who may need additional supports.

 

Impact

In the 2015-2016 school year, Alternatives used its Get IN Chicago grant to reach nearly 1,000 students and teachers with restorative justice services and trainings.  Of that group, 116 students in Austin and Englewood also participated in the Urban Arts program.   Alternatives, Inc. reported the following outcomes:

  • 347 days of suspensions prevented through use of restorative practices (as measured by discipline dean records)
  • 87% of students using restorative justice services felt the final agreement resolved their issue or conflict successfully (as measured by follow-up surveys)
  • Among students who received at least 10 hours of restorative justice services over the year, 88% reported imported improvements to their communication skills with peers (Alternatives, Inc. impact survey)
  • 84% of students in the urban arts program reported improvements to their conflict resolution abilities with peers, family, and teachers (Alternatives, Inc. impact survey)

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Success Stories:

Restorative Justice

“After a huge fight occurred at one school, a nasty social media post about the school and its staff went viral. The yearbook teacher was inspired to change the narrative.  Collaborating with the school’s restorative justice specialist, classes brainstormed ways to plant positive seeds at the school and cancel out the negativity of the post.  The resulting campaign used students’ social media aptitude to promote the #GoodinEnglewood and discuss the impact of recording/posting fights online. Additionally, Alternatives, Inc. helped lead a peace circle with several staff members, the student who made the post, and the student’s family. As a result of the circle, the student developed a project idea about boundaries and made a plan to present it to classes throughout the school.” – Alternatives Restorative Justice staff member

 

Urban Arts

“Amira* always displayed resistance to the arts programming at Robeson. During sessions, she would sit in the circle formation but with her back completely turned, refusing to participate.

“The teaching artist was eventually informed that Amira has a mood disorder, which provided some context for her behavior.  Nonetheless, she continued to appear disengaged during sessions and it was not clear whether she was taking in any of the lessons – until one of the staff members received the following poem from her, unprompted:”

 Life… I often wonder what it is?

I question my existence, why was I born?

Why not earlier or later on in the world but while questioning the world it dwelled on me that life doesn’t come with a answer sheet you just got to make the best out of the worst situations.

I come to a point where I realize that the strongest go through the most to shape them into the legend they were destined to become but only the strongest can be able to overcome the obstacles that were designed to prevent your success.

In the darkest of times always remember overcome don’t succumb.

be the soldier who lost the battle but won the war, because within those lost battles are lessons that can be used to strengthen you as a person.

– shared by Alternatives, Inc. Urban Arts staff member

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