Some schools in Houston are working to stop behavior problems before they begin. Instead of suspending kids, they’re focusing on supporting them. It’s called restorative justice.
At the Academy of Choice in Spring Branch, Anita Wadhwa coordinates support circles. The campus first used them to address conflicts. Now the circles go beyond that. Teachers, administrators and fellow students gather to support teens dealing with a range of issues, including low grades, losing a loved one and feeling excluded at school.
One recent support group was for Nancy. She’s a high school freshman at the Academy of Choice who got into a fight and was trying to figure out what to do next. (Editor’s Note: Some students in this piece are identified only by their first names to protect their privacy.)
What students and teachers say about support circles:
“I don’t think there’s a lot of support for these kids. I really don’t. I mean, cutting, gangs, getting jumped, miscarriages. They’re just like, ‘Well, this is my life, this is how it is.’ And when you do a circle, they’re able to step back and hear from other people and realize, ‘Hey, what I’m going through is pretty tough and I need to take care of myself, and I need to love and take care of myself, this isn’t normal, things don’t have to be like this.’ And when they see that, it’s both helpful and painful,” says Anita Wadhwa, restorative justice coordinator.
“Some people say the circles don’t even help you. Some of them do, some of them don’t. It depends on how you take it. If you’re actually into it, you’re going to get it … It makes a difference to me. It makes me feel like I’m special,” says Nancy, a freshman.
- “Since that circle, I let everything out and I feel new again, like newborn,” says Abdiel, 16.
- “After doing these circles … I finally feel like I can help people. It’s a good feeling, knowing that you helped somebody,” says Luis Funes, a high school senior.
For more information about restorative justice, visit the Restorative Justice Collaborative of Houston.