Garfield School Staff and Students Talk Relationships and Restorative Practices in the Wake of COVID

For the last part of the 2019/2020 school year and most of the 2020/2021 school year Revere Public School students were at home learning remotely in order to curb the spread of COVID during the height of the pandemic.

Now with students back in schools across the city and learning in-person some students are finding it hard to readjust to a social setting.

However, this was expected and staff and students at the Garfield School have implemented tools to cultivate the power of positive relationships and restorative practices in the wake of the pandemic.

“You’ve recently heard about some of the amplified behaviors at schools but we’ve also witnessed this in the middle schools pertaining to our return to in-person instruction,” said Garfield Principal Steve Pechinsky. “We attribute a lot of these issues to the high expectations of behavior and the standards that we have. Now when we compound this with the extra restrictions that come with us during in-person instruction–including wearing masks, social distancing, etc–it makes it that much more difficult for students. In my four years as the principal of the Garfield Middle School, we have really as a team pushed to develop the power of positive relationships between staff and students, students and students, and staff and staff. So as we reacclimate and transition again back into this new normal, I think we have doubled down on our commitment to develop that positive school community.”

Since the start of the school year the Garfield’s Andrea Shulman has been working with a team of teachers to begin weaving a culture at the school where students and staff hold each other up when times get tough and there is conflict at the school.

“If there are harms done, you sit in a circle and you try to restore those harms,” said Shulman. “In these circles you learn how to talk and how to use your ability to listen to change the way the (school) community is interacting, to make sure that someone who is harmed feels safe and taken care of and restored and the person who is doing the harm is also taken care of as well.”

Shulman said at the Garfield, teachers are being taught how to run these restorative circles and how to use restorative language.

“Everyone has been given a step by step guide on how to run restorative circles where everyone has equal speaking time and are building values and guidelines and understanding each other in that space,” she said.

Garfield 6th Grade Teacher Emily McDonald said she has been implementing these circles within her core content classes.

“I wanted to just discuss some of the results that we’ve seen just within the last couple of months of introducing these circles,” said McDonald. “I’ve seen healthier relationships and interpersonal communication between the kids. I’ve seen an increased vulnerability, willingness to share, willingness to express emotions. I’ve seen increased empathy between my students’ self awareness, which is a really tough one for middle school students, and learning how to label their emotions a little bit better.”

Garfield 8th grader Mia Waldron said the circles have really helped her better relationships with others, not just in the school, but in the whole community.

“You also get to learn from the circles and it helps with certain situations I wasn’t able to fix on my own,” said Mia. “I also hear other opinions and other ideas and it helps me deal with heavy emotions, like stress and anger, and how to deal with those emotions. It has also taught me how to deal with healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to tell the difference between the two, which is very important.”

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