MKC pays tribute to the spirits of friends and family who have died.
November 2, 2016
MKC partners with Catalyst Maria to expand reach of Peace Circles
October 25, 2016
The MKC is pleased to announce an exciting new effort together with Catalyst Maria School, the K-12 Chicago Public Charter School with whom we share a campus. In partnership, we are moving forward with efforts to create a “circle culture” in the Catalyst community. This will be accomplished through the implementation of restorative justice practices (RJP).
RJP is rooted in ancient indigenous cultures and supported by modern research. Simply put, RJP proposes that wrongdoing should be viewed personally, as an offense against an individual or a community rather than abstractly, as an offense against the law. In this light, restitution cannot take place until the relationship between the victim and the offender is restored. In other words, authentic, trusting relationships between individuals and among members of a group are the key to civil society. A society can as easily be defined as relations between two people or between two million.
A society can also be defined as a classroom or a school.
Recognizing this, Catalyst Maria and the MKC work together to bring a better understanding of RJP to the entire Catalyst community through staff training and coaching as well as circle facilitation. This will ultimately lead to a commonly shared circle culture at Catalyst. Circles are the mechanism through which relationships can be established or rebuilt, and a circle culture, according to Amos Clifford of the Center for Restorative Process, is one “in which everyone feels like they belong. They build a particular sense of community in which every member. . . feel[s] that they are seen, heard, and respected.” In such a community, people are willing to expose their own vulnerability.
Within the first few weeks of the school year, the MKC had coordinated teacher in-services where circle trained coaches explained the concepts of RJP to faculty members and offered preliminary guidance on introducing circles to the classroom. The Center also welcomed several classrooms of children, some as young as five years old, to familiarize them with the expectations, vocabulary, and procedures of circles, including the use of the "talking piece," a special token that is passed around and gives the holder the right to speak.
While many variations of circles exist, the two principal types are community building circles and responsive circles, and Amy Eckhouse, program director at the MKC and trained circle facilitator has implemented both. In a community building circle, the purpose is to encourage participants to get to know one another and establish positive connections that nurture growing trust. Several Catalyst teachers have requested community building circles as a way to get the school year off to a good start. Sean Hamilton, the high school art teacher brought all of his classes in for community building circles. He felt his students would be better able to express themselves artistically if they were open to their own and each other’s vulnerability.
Responsive circles are designed to explore challenging circumstances and move participants in the direction of making things right. Any number of issues can prompt a responsive circle, including bullying, fighting, spreading rumors, excessively disruptive classes, etc. Several teachers, along with deans, counselors, and administrators have requested the MKC hold responsive circles. Facilitator Eckhouse expertly and patiently leads participants to an emotionally safe place, and as participants begin to open up, the circles begin to work their magic. Time after time, Amy reports back that within an hour or so, teens who could barely stand to look at one another end the circle with heartfelt apologies, offered on their own, and handshakes and hugs.
Catalyst Dean Christina King has seen the beneficial impact circles, with their restorative powers, have had on the student body and she believes that “allowing [students] redemption” can lead them back on track for success. Redemption is not likely to be found in the punitive approach of traditional disciplinary tactics. She understands the importance of giving students a second chance: “We must allow them a second chance. If we don’t, what are teaching them about life and opportunity?”
Geneva, a senior at Catalyst, understands the importance of fresh starts. When she observed that peace circles “help people put the past in the past,” she spoke with a wisdom beyond her years. No one can move forward, no community can move forward, if they can’t get beyond the past. By embracing a circle culture and implementing restorative justice practices, the MKC and Catalyst Maria intend to bring understanding, empathy, compassion, trust, and hope to young people and a community.
The MKC has been awarded (and continues to seek) several grants to help develop and strengthen the restorative justice program. In October, MKC Executive Director Mindy Rueden gave a presentation to one funder, the Chicago Mennonite Learning Center, where she discussed the benefits of incorporating peace circles into the practices of the campus, fostering a culture of community and mutual respect.