March 2, 2017 | by Caryn Turgeon

A Closer Look Into A Peace Room

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Alyssa, pictured here in the Peace Room, meets for a daily check-in with one of Foundations' students. 

This week we visited Alyssa Yokota-Lewis, Umoja Restorative Justice Specialist, at Foundations College Preparatory in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood.

Foundations College Prep is a new partner for Umoja and the first middle school partner since we began working in Chicago public schools in 1997. Alyssa runs the Peace Room and partners with teachers and staff to incorporate restorative justice practices into the school.

Here is what Alyssa had to say about how the Peace Room positively influences the community at Foundations...

“Foundations is a sixth-through-ninth-grade school. It is a small school and that means everyone has a little bit more access to each other. Foundations wanted the Peace Room because they really believe in the ideas of restorative justice and wanted to implement restorative conversations specifically across staff members. We established the partnership this fall and created the space to establish what the community wanted through conversations we all had together. 

What the Peace Room has brought to the school and this community is just an alternative way to deal with ‘drama,’ as the kids would say. A lot of them will come to me and say, ‘I’ve got a conflict, Ms. Y.’ or ‘I got this thing going on and I need to talk to you.’ It has not yet come to some other serious situation, but it does still distract them from school because they are thinking about it and are preoccupied with it. Both the students and the staff widely recognize this space as the time to be reactive to the conflict but proactive to the fighting. 

The Peace Room has just begun to increase awareness that there is an earlier stage in which we can respond to issues before the fight happens. For many students, it is not clear. For many of them, the issue is ‘Well, something happened and I don’t like it, so we’re just not friends anymore. We’re not cool and we don’t talk.’ Students can begin to isolate themselves emotionally because they have not had conversations to address the conflict that is happening in order to build relationships. I love the work because there is a lot of that here at Foundations. The students want to build relationships. We have had many Peace Circles and very few of the conflicts that have come to a Peace Circle have resurfaced. Actually, off the top of my head, only maybe two."