My Experience with Restorative Justice in American Schools

Leon, a high school student from Berlin, Germany, spent three months with the Gandhi Institute during the spring of 2018, learning about our mission and assisting us in our work.

My experiences with American schools in Rochester, New York and the great engagement of the Gandhi Institute in those schools.

I used to work in three different elementary schools in Rochester: School No. 12, 17, & 19. Two of the three months I worked in School No. 12 with Matt. Every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday I was there between 3pm and 5pm. I liked to be there because I spent time with 5th to 8th graders and could do many fun things with them. We could go outside and have fun or stay inside and do some homework. Sometimes I did some fun things with some first and second graders.

It was great to build relationships over the two months with different students. In the end, I could have conversations with them. I also knew what problems they have and knew what they do in their free time.

Every Thursday and Friday I worked with Spero and Hoody in the Help Zone of School No. 17. The Help Zone is a room for students that offers them space to stay in if they avoid going to class, if they disturb the lessons and get sent down by the teacher, if they need to calm down when they are angry, if they want to reflect, or if they need to have a mediation and after that try again and make better decisions. The Help Zone is helpful for teachers too. For example, they have the opportunity to send students down to the Help Zone and do that with a good conscience.

Most of the time the students are in the Help Zone for about 15 minutes and they got sent down for different reasons. We would have a conversation with them and they got time to calm down. Sometimes there are bigger problems. For example, a fight between students or between students and teachers. Then it is necessary to have a mediation. That gives both parties the opportunity to get to chat with the other person(s), to speak out, and to hopefully have a good atmosphere in the end.

I liked to be in the Help Zone because I could chat with people close to my age, and I could draw or goof around with them. Sometimes I went to the the cafeteria and sit with some different classes during lunch. I had the most fun with the younger students because they were very interested and had fun asking me questions. The fact that I´m from Germany was another interesting point and they learned to speak a little German.

I also worked in School No. 19 with Matt every Monday and Wednesday with 5th-graders. The day started with a group of four students for half an hour. We invited them to check-in and talk about emotions and feelings. But the main part of the group work was funny activities. For example, we had thrown some tennis balls at a bucket. When someone would hit the bucket, they had to write down a stressful situation in school. All of us together were thinking then how they could solve this situation in the best way. That’s a good way to teach students how to handle difficult situations well. After that we mostly had some chats with single students that were similar to the group chats.

After specials (classes that happened every day), we met another group of students. A group of four chaotic boys. We chatted with them about different situations and feelings too and did some activities. Often it was more loud and more chaotic then in the other group. But it was also fun too, because they talked a lot, were creative and did funny things. After that we went for lunch and we sat with the students in the cafeteria. Mostly that was very exhausting, because it was loud and many students were running around. Sometimes there also was a confrontation between some students. It is a pity that something like that can happen so fast.

For me, the whole thing was quiet shocking at first because I´m not used to that from my school. I realized fast what the problems in the schools in the US are. I´m very lucky to be in a school in Germany, because we don’t have many of these problems. Of course my school is a little different because it is a private school. I joined the school 13 years ago and we have many wonderful projects. But I think that the education in the schools in Germany generally is supported better.

It is also way cheaper to go to college/ university in Germany, than it is in the US. I think it is very important that the government supports education because if that doesn’t happen and the younger people don’t get good education. There is logically soon a problem with jobs, state and individual debt, poverty, and much more…

My three month project unfortunately ended on June 20th. Now I´m back in Germany. I learned a lot in the time I was there about Gandhi, nonviolence, and personal responsibility. Also I met very many great people, for which it is important that there is justice, that other people feel good, and that education gets supported. These people have to work to reach that goal.

I didn’t really want to leave and I already miss the time I spent in the US. I definitely want to come back and to learn more about nonviolence. I‘m very happy having had this project, and I´m very grateful for all the people who made this possible and supported me with everything.