DECATUR — Restorative practices are rooted in community.
A workshop held on three consecutive Wednesdays and meeting at The Salvation Army is helping educators, community leaders and others learn to create and sustain those supportive relationships with the help of former educator Kevin Jones.
The event was hosted by the Macon-Piatt Regional Office of Education and sponsored by Illinois Humanities and the Global Restorative Justice Partnership.
Jones describes himself as a trainer and a coach, a retired educator who now focuses on his work with the International Institute of Restorative Practices and sessions like the ones he's leading in Decatur.
“It focuses on relationships and community,” he said. “The aim of restorative practices is to develop relationships and develop community and you do that because you can manage conflicts and tensions better, whether it's in your home or your school or within our community when you've built that community. Then there are processes, which we're going to focus on a lot next week.”
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The secret to restorative practices, said Jill Reedy, assistant regional superintendent for Macon-Piatt Regional Office of Education, is to listen more than you talk.
“We've really branched outside of education,” she said. “We've hosted a lot in past years with educators. This is the first time we've really reached out beyond education to really connect the community with educators.”
Because educators are working with kids who will be the next generation of community leaders, it's important to include community leaders, she said, who can work hand-in-hand with educators.
“We can't run our schools in isolation,” she said. “We have to have community support.”
“I'm here to take any opportunity I can to improve my ability to provide a safe and welcoming atmosphere for our staff and patrons,” said Nicky Besser, executive director of Good Samaritan Inn. “This model just provides another tool in the tool belt for us to continue to do that.”
The first week was an introduction to restorative practices, she said, while the second week helped participants learn to begin using those skills.
Cindy Kuro, prevention educator with Set Free Anti-Trafficking Movement, is also a retired teacher who worked at Futures Unlimited. Many people don't realize how pervasive human trafficking is, and that it's everywhere, even in Decatur. Much of her time is spent meeting with people one-on-one or in small groups, and building relationships and good communication are critical skills.
“We've learned about listening circles and how to communicate better,” she said. “I'm really invested in the whole concept and excited to be here.”
One woman on her team was a victim of human trafficking herself, Kuro said, and she tells her story when they do presentations which helps people understand how real the problem is.
Brandi Kelly, principal of Sangamon Valley Middle School, said educators are always on the lookout for more tools to help kids.
“A lot of our students, especially post-pandemic, are coming back to us and dealing with mental health issues and just struggling to get back into a normal routine,” she said. “This sort of practice is a different mindset to help us work with our students to provide both support and consequences to balance them.”
Next week, Keyria Rodgers, of Millikin University, who organizes an annual Peace Summit, will be a featured speaker. The goal of the Peace Summit is to have summits quarterly, and the goal of those is to train more people in restorative justice and restorative practices.
“We want to kickstart what's called the Citywide Restorative Justice,” she said. “This is something they actually do in the Chicago area. The goal is to try to see if we can do something like that here so that we don't have one or two people we feel comfortable calling for restorative justice. There are multiple people that we'll be able to raise up in this area and make sure it's consistent.”
Jarmese Sherrod runs Young Leaders in Action, a group of youth who volunteer in a variety of capacities throughout Macon County, and restorative practices in education is a critical piece of preparing youth to lead one day.
“What we bring to the table each time we come is the empowerment part as far as motivating and keeping things alive, the conversations, the laughter,” she said. “We're in a time right now where we're shifting through this pandemic and what we want to do is constantly empower people and let them know your community is here to support you, your community loves you and your community will always be behind you in everything we do.”
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Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter