Students sat side by side inside the Weaver Middle School quad as they gathered together for a type of day that has never existed inside the school grounds.
In collaboration with the Restorative Justice League of Merced, the “Weaver Peacemaker Event” is an all day event that focuses on educating students to “promote kindness and build a culture of peace on campus.”
“Our staff has been working over the course of a couple of years on implementing restorative practices,” Principal Elias Villa explained. “This is taking it to the next level; all of our staff are trained in restorative practices, restorative circles, and having restorative conversations with students.”
“Restorative” refers to giving students a voice and chance to express the way they feel, Principal Villa elaborated. “It’s all about giving students the opportunity to make things right when they do something wrong and not just coming at it through a punitive lease. There’s punishing behavior and then there’s teaching the students how to behave and stopping the behavior when it starts.”
A restorative practice of punishment allows communication and understanding between the middle school and educator. It allows students a chance to reflect, apologize, and take the situation as a learning experience whereas immediate punishment can create an environment where students feel as if their leaders have banished them.
“I wish I had gone through this as an administrator when I first started,” Villa said. “It would have changed the way I handle a lot of situations getting started. We try to do other means of correction before suspending a student and this is one of those things.”
The school had been working on implementing the program since the end of last year when educators realized students needed an extra dose of support after coming back to campus after a year of social-distanced learning through the pandemic.
The Restorative Justice League was involved in implementing rallies at Bellevue Middle School in Atwater, Los Banos sites, and other schools. Weaver Middle School can now be added to the list.
Students began their morning with a quick opening ceremony that featured ice breakers, music, an introduction to student leaders, and words by keynote speaker, Poet Ali.
Andre Griggs, coordinator of the Restorative Justice League, was instrumental in providing students with strong community leaders that would help guide the “Circle in Classrooms” periods that helped guide the day.
These leaders come from Merced High, Merced College, UC Merced, or are graduates of the schools — and some are even graduates of Weaver Middle School. Leaders are trained and guided groups throughout the day in “Community Building Peace Circles” that include sharing personal experiences that speak from the heart, learning to listen to other students by listening with respect and with empathy, respecting privacy, and implementing peace.
“Everyone has a story and a place they come from, and that makes us strong. This is about building a community, this is all about giving students a chance to get to know their classmates on a different level.”
The event ran through the entirety of the day beginning at 8:35 a.m. and ending at 3:35 p.m. Principal Villa hopes to continue hosting the “Peacemaker Event” as the school years come and go, improving the program every year as it goes.
For more information on the event, please contact Weaver Middle School at (209) 723-2174.