We know that young black men, especially in urban schools, bear the brunt of  suspensions and expulsions.  Moreover, as The Chicago Reporter recently noted, 30% of Chicago Public School students who received out-of-school suspensions in 2013-2014 had a history of documented abuse and neglect.  These statistics suggest that out of school time may actually increase youths’ relative risk for trauma, violence or victimization.  In many cases, suspensions and expulsions remove what little supports these kids may have.

Restorative justice programs provide an alternative to school discipline through supportive, in-school discussions, trainings, and conferences.  Even though schools recognize the value of restorative justice, they often lack the staff resources and support to make these programs work.  Consequently, Get IN Chicago chose Alternatives, Inc., a restorative justice organization, as one of its original Cohort 1 grant recipients in May 2014.

The Alternatives’ Restorative Justice (RJ) Program utilizes a whole-school model, including classroom management strategies, talking circles to build relationships before conflicts arise, restorative conversations to immediately address conflicts, and peer conferencing to facilitate accountability and repair damaged
relationships.  Over the past few years, their program has shown promising results in Chicago high schools, particularly Uplift – a school with a similar profile to Get IN Chicago focus schools.  Plus, Alternatives already had a manualized curriculum and evidence to support their program, making them a prime candidate for Get IN Chicago funding.


With their original Get IN Chicago grant, Alternatives expanded their services at TEAM Englewood High School and Robeson High School in Englewood and Douglass High School in Austin.  Last school year, that grant helped them reach more than 600 students.  The impact of their program in these schools is just beginning to be analyzed.

But what we do know so far is that students report less fights, more dialogue, and a safer learning environment.  Alternatives staff also notes how the program is affecting students on an individual level – such as the case with Miriam* at Robeson High School in Englewood:

“Miriam was referred to the Restorative Justice Coach after she threw a book at another student after he made a vulgar, degrading comment toward her in front of the class. The Restorative Justice Specialist celebrated Miriam’s self-respect and the back-bone that was revealed by her taking a stand for herself.  But the specialist also asked her to think about how she could have confronted the other student while avoiding getting put out of class. 

“The next day, Miriam reported that a different boy said another vulgar, disrespectful, loud comment to her in the hallway, adding that she wanted to fight him. ‘What should I do?’ she asked.

“In response, the Restorative Justice Specialist offered confrontation ideas that didn’t involve fighting. Miriam liked one response in particular: ‘You should have enough self-respect not to talk to a woman like that.’ Once again, her refusal to accept such rude comments was celebrated.

“The third day, Miriam reported that she walked away from two girls that were laughing at her and a friend, because she knew she was going to fight them if she stayed. By this time, she had avoided two subsequent fights, identified points at which she gets angry, and utilized new strategies to respectfully, nonviolently oppose students who are mean to her. ”
*not her real name

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Building on last year’s success, Get IN Chicago expanded Alternatives’ grant for 2015-2016.  With their commitment to evidence-based practice, ability to reach the large number of youth needed for evaluation, and mission of reducing risk factors for violence, Alternatives is an organization Get IN Chicago is proud to work with.

This year, Alternatives will reach 750 young men and women at Douglass High School in Austin, TEAM Englewood High School, Hope High School, Robeson High School in Englewood, and Corliss High School in Roseland with Get IN Chicago funds.  We look forward to keeping you updated on their progress!