An alternative to suspension — Peace Center launches in Paterson school
PATERSON — Rocking chairs, comfy couches, a babbling-brook noise machine, warm lighting and a partitioned nook for meditation make up a refurbished location on the Eastside High School campus, where students in conflict have a chance to amicably talk things out, perhaps instead of serving suspension, and students in crisis can get a breather during school hours.
The Peace Center represents the district's latest effort to integrate the "restorative justice" model when determining how to discipline students who, say, get into a physical fight in a school hallway or in the parking lot. The idea is to bring the two conflicting parties together, with a staff member and sometimes the students' parents, and hash things out face to face.
For the less extreme forms of conflict, a session in the Peace Center can replace a harsher punishment that likely wouldn't help anyone anyway, schools Superintendent Eileen Shafer said.
"When we send students to out-of-school suspension, in my opinion they don't understand what they did wrong, they don't understand how they could've handled the situation differently, and there's a good chance they'll come back and do the same thing all over again," Shafer told New Jersey 101.5.
Shafer said the district is attempting to minimize the number of out-of-school suspensions. Through this model, she said, students can learn to deal with conflict in different ways.
"It can not always be put your fists up," she said.
The Peace Center, made possible with help from the nonprofit Youth Consultation Services, officially launched in a trailer on the high school campus earlier this month, but restorative justice practices have been in place in a handful of district schools for about a year and a half.
"It's working. Parents like it," Shafer said.
The Paterson Education Fund provided funding to send 10 staff members from different schools to restorative justice training in Oregon, Shafer said.
Shafer said the Peace Center also serves as a calming outlet for students dealing with a personal crisis. Students experiencing a mental health issue, for example, can ask for permission to visit the center and relax.
"There's always a staff person in the room," Shafer said.
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