Virtual Restorative Practices Support Community Partners
As we continue to shift our lives and adjust each day to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 in our community, the Asheville Buncombe Middle Grades Network has also moved to convene teachers and other school staff, nonprofit leaders, community partners and our Community School staff online. There are two virtual meetings offered each week. The first meeting is to discuss challenges as well as to celebrate what is working well for students, staff, and community partners in organizations like YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western Carolina, MANNA Foodbank and more. The goal is to understand both the needs and resources so that we can work collectively to meet them.
The second gathering is a virtual Restorative Practices community building circle - a practice that helps strengthen relationships between individuals and social connections within the community. Through the use of Zoom Breakout Rooms, participants gather in small groups of 6-8 people each. The circles create a safe space for community-building questions that allow participants to share how they’re feeling and to break down barriers and get to know one another on a more personal level.
Creating Space for Interpersonal Connection
In a Restorative Practices virtual circle during Spring Break, Owen Middle Community School Coordinator Josh Wells asked the small group he was leading what they are doing to care for themselves. Responses ranged from reading and yoga to getting out on a nearby river to de-stress and reduce screen time. Another question asked participants to share the unique ways people around them are showing up in the community during this crisis. Participants responded with a range of answers from the work they and their organization are doing to the support systems around them through YWCA or Pisgah Legal Services. The hour-long call ended with new connections being made, ideas and gratitude shared, and more interpersonal camaraderie amongst those providing vital resources within the community. As one participant noted, "These kinds of connections are so important. When would the seven of us be in this kind of conversation in our normal lives?”
“The underlying premise of restorative practices is that people are happier, more cooperative, more productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in positions of authority do things with them rather than TO them or FOR them.” -Ted Watchel, International Institute for Restorative Practices
United Way has been guiding the implementation of Restorative Practices within our local Community Schools. Asheville Middle and Owen Middle have two years implementing this important process in their schools and Erwin and Enka Middle are not far behind. Last fall, more than 65 participants gathered at United Way for Restorative Practices training with Kerri Berkowitz, a national leader in school-based implementation of Restorative Practices. You can learn more about how we’ve helped guide this process for our Community Schools here.