Social Justice in the Classroom: How a Restorative Justice Framework Can Prepare Teachers and Staff for the New School Year

Siobhan Davenportl | SDavenport@crittentonservices.org

I was recently appointed to the Montgomery County Taskforce on School Safety. Alongside Councilmembers Will Jawando, Craig Rice, and other community leaders and students, we will craft a roadmap to police-free schools and safer learning environments for youth. 

This issue is personal to me. Not only am I the parent of two teenagers, but Crittenton works with Black and Brown teen girls who live in communities with the highest incidents of poverty and violence in our region. In our Declare Equity for Girls Report—a landmark study that revealed the obstacles girls face in achieving education equity, girls shared that their school environments were not conducive to learning and identified persistent bullying and difficult interactions with teachers and staff as some of their primary concerns. 

Safe and supportive environments, whether at school, home, or in the community, are essential to unlocking the potential of our youth—no matter their backgrounds. Here’s how to use a Restorative Justice Framework to create safer schools and communities for our teen girls as they prepare for the new school year. 

Relationship

“Bad vibes everywhere! Negativity is everywhere in the school building. Nobody can get along. It’s always something with somebody.” – A Crittenton girl from the Declare Equity for Girls Report

Restorative justice seeks to repair damaged relationships. Before any learning takes place, administrators must first acknowledge that the relationship between staff and students is damaged. Prior to the pandemic, the trauma that some youth experienced in the community manifested as difficult behavior in the classroom. Teachers and staff bore the brunt of these interactions on top of demands to perform at underfunded schools in challenged communities. The result was despair. Now, after a global pandemic and an emotionally exhausting school year, we should expect students and staff will bring some historical trauma and current frustrations into the classroom too.  

Respect

“The teachers are always talking about ‘you have to respect them.’ You have to respect me if you want respect.” – A Crittenton girl from the Declare Equity for Girls Report

Trauma-informed care starts with creating a safe space. Safe spaces create cultures of mutual respect. Administrators can mend their relationships with students by establishing new dynamics with each other. Acknowledging the leadership of another person is crucial to fostering respect. At Crittenton, we position our program coordinators to become the trusted and caring adult who is a partner in a girl’s success. They do this by seeing and respecting teens as experts in their lives. Girls are then excited to be a part of Crittenton’s sacred sisterhood and activate their inner leader. A similar experience can be replicated in the classroom. The most successful educators create safe environments to learn and recognize the leadership of teens to interpret or reimagine information to deepen their learning. 

Responsibility

“I don’t have any negative feelings towards my school because after a while, you just zone out.”– A Crittenton girl from the Declare Equity for Girls Report

Restorative Justice Framework contends that everyone has a personal responsibility to restore the relationship and create a better future.  We open every cohort with a group-building activity. A simple yet effective activity is Group Agreements. Group Agreements maintain the structure and order of the group and also encourage personal responsibility to the cohort. Teachers can interpret this exercise for the classroom. Create space for students to write their desired rules, needs, and expectations of the classroom to do their best learning. Once the class has created a comprehensive list, give students an opportunity to decide agreements are necessary. Also, give the class a chance to suggest consequences for breaking the agreements. Simple exercises like this give teens a chance to express themselves, any hidden needs, and also feel ownership and autonomy in their education. 

Repair

“The drama stops people from learning.”– A Crittenton girl from the Declare Equity for Girls Report

Toxic learning environments shut students down. Administrators, teachers, and school staff must work to repair the culture of negative schools to reignite the desire to learn. Restorative justice acknowledges that all damage cannot be repaired; however, change must begin immediately and fully for parties to gain their self-respect and respect for others. Adults have control over the following: providing students with adequate school supplies and better-funded schools, ensuring staff is trained in culturally competent teaching practices and undergoing unconscious bias and gender-bias training which impacts academic performance. I also recommend increasing the number of mental health specialists and trauma-informed counselors to show commitment to providing the proper care and resources needed to meet the needs of students and to transform the school culture.

Reintegration

“One of the positive things about my school is some of my teachers’ support and give tough love on the bad days.” – A Crittenton girl from the Declare Equity for Girls Report

The restorative justice process ends with reintegration. Parties must contribute to and collaborate on a new path forward. Teens will need time to reintegrate into structured learning and social environments with school staff and their friends. Administrators cannot assume that things can or should go back to normal. In DC alone, more than 40% of students are considered at-risk youth. Additionally, our internal needs assessment revealed that 22% of girls took on additional caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic. Returning to normal is not an option. The old normal resulted in poor academic achievement, discriminatory discipline, and ultimately the push out of Black and brown girls in schools. The new normal must be better for Black and brown teen girls and we must engage them in developing solutions that heal their trauma and match their current and future needs.

 

Teens Are Experts of Their Own Lives: A Podcast

President & CEO of Crittenton Services of Greater Washington, Siobhan Davenport, joins Daniel Bauer from Better Leaders, Better schools to share her insight into why teens are experts of their own lives. Listen in as they discuss:

  • Understanding barriers that girls face and teaching action advocacy. 
  • Creating safe space and suspending judgment as an intentional move as an organization.
  • The key to building world class culture with one question.
  • Reflection for leaders to help navigate and engage at school and at home.
  • Serve the whole child by suspending judgment with specific staff training. 
  • Evolution of a sacred sister circle-hood. “Meet girls where they are, but don’t let them stay there.”

“Let Teens Lead. As adults, we have wonderful experiences in our lives and we get to a point where we say, ‘Do this, do that, do the other.’ We forget that teens are the experts in their own lives. They come with so much experience and they know what they need, and we can be a support to them and get the services that they need.” – Siobhan Davenport

See original article

 

How To Prioritize Your Teen’s Mental Health And Wellbeing.

As a mother to a teen girl and a leader of a nonprofit that’s helping our Black and brown girls navigate this pandemic, I see daily the importance of prioritizing the emotional wellness of our children. As parents, we must provide the tools, community, and support systems to help maintain our teen’s mental health and wellbeing for them to overcome challenges and thrive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges we’ve all been facing, and teens are feeling the fear, strain of uncertainty, and the stress of competing at school, work, and extracurricular demands more than ever.

J.R. Celeste, founder & publisher of Successful Black Parenting Magazine, interviews Siobhan Davenport about the mental health of our Black girls and the effects of the pandemic.
 

“When You make space for teens to self-advocate for their personal needs, You create an environment where they feel safe and confident enough to use their voices and articulate their desires.”


They need help, but sometimes youth lack the skills and opportunity to communicate their needs. You can start by creating space for this at home. In recognition of Minority Mental Health and Awareness Month, here are some tips and best practices for parents to continue supporting teens’ mental health and wellness.

Foster a safe, non-judgmental space that inspires your teen to share what’s on their minds

Our Black and brown children are often looking for an opening to express themselves. You must keep at the forefront of your mind that youth voices matter and their experiences are real and valid. If you create an environment where kids believe their perspectives don’t matter, they may find it difficult to share their deepest concerns with you. You have to model for your children that you care, and show them what active and respectful listening looks like in conversation. They can carry these skills from home to school.

You can create the opening by asking specific questions about their day (for example: “How was class today with teacher X?” versus “How was school today?”). Asking more specific questions can help get to the core of what may be pressing or heavy for your child at that moment. Welcome and encourage frequent dialogue for your teen to express themselves to you. The more you keep an open mind, the more it builds a trusting relationship.

Encourage your teens to focus on the things they can control, even when life feels unpredictable

Help your children to identify what they can control in their lives. This includes helping them understand how to break down larger blocks of homework into smaller achievable goals, structuring manageable schedules, especially if they are engaged in multiple school and extracurricular activities. It can be simply directing them to keep their personal spaces in the home organized, as well as helping them ensure that family spaces and tasks are organized as well.

Show them that we also have control of taking care of our minds and bodies. This can be as simple as eating the healthiest food available, incorporating physical activity into each day, and getting consistent sleep — specifically, eight to ten hours of sleepper night as experts have long recommended for teens. Integrating routines will provide consistency to help keep teens’ mental health in check. These organizational skills not only provide structure but also help alleviate stress to maintain your teen’s mental health and wellbeing. It prevents young people from becoming overwhelmed when all of their “to-dos” come at them at once.

Encourage teens to practice self-advocacy and ask for help from adults and their peers

You can aid your teen in developing the skills and confidence to advocate for themself at school, out in the world, and at home. Being able to express their needs and desires is essential to them feeling valued. Asking questions and creating space for teens to first identify and then share what they are feeling, or what they need, helps them to feel as if they have a little more control over their experiences. I also have to spend more time listening to see how my daughter is working through challenges, instead of being so quick to offer solutions.

When you make space for teens to self-advocate for their personal needs, you create an environment where they feel safe and confident enough to use their voices and articulate their desires. In turn, this empowers a confident parent, equipped with the skills to be in dialogue with their children while honoring youth voices.

It’s been a tumultuous 16 months, and we need to make sure that our kids can recover. As a parent, it is imperative to create adequate spaces and support systems for your teen’s mental health and wellbeing. You can start some of the work to create spaces at home, but you’ll need every participant in your children’s learning ecosystem — schools, summer learning programs, youth-serving organizations, parents, families, and communities — to play a part in the recovery process so your children can reach their full potential.

See original article

 

Crittenton girls host talk for teens on COVID-19 recovery

More than 100 teen girls from Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County school districts gathered on April 22 at 6 p.m. for a virtual community conversation about the impact of COVID-19 on the area’s youth.

Crittenton Services of Greater Washington (CSGW) hosted students and community members for the nonprofit’s annual High Tea. Due to the pandemic, this year’s event was virtual and the conversation centered on empowering young women through the effects of COVID-19.

Siobhan Davenport, president and CEO of CSGW, was one of the adults who participated in the High Tea. Davenport told the AFRO that COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges that students of Crittenton already face.

“We as an organization have many conversations on how the inequity in healthcare, and housing and in education have risen to the top because of the pandemic,” Davenport said.

According to a CSGW news release, a February needs assessment showed that out of nearly 400 students surveyed, 63 percent of the students feel more stressed than usual and 43 percent are worried about their futures.

The event included a main session that was hosted by NBC reporter Juliana Valencia and featured appearances by the Mayor of Somerset, Md., Jeffrey Slavin, and Crittenton Honoree Catherine Leggett.

After the main session, the teen girl participants were placed into several small groups or breakout rooms where they had an open dialogue with one another surrounding the pre-chosen theme: “My Voice Matters.”

Read the full article

How one nonprofit helps at-risk teenage girls in DC and Montgomery Co.

Crittenton Services of Greater Washington aims to help hundreds of at-risk teenage girls across D.C. and Montgomery County, Maryland, every year — even during the pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has been challenging for people from all walks of life and at-risk youth are no exception.

“The pandemic has certainly impacted the young ladies that we serve,” said Siobhan Davenport, CEO of Crittenton Services.

The 133-year-old nonprofit works with 500 to 600 teens from sixth through 12th grade every year.

“Our teen girls experience economic insecurity, racial disparities (and) gender inequities. Our families experience housing insecurity and food insecurity,” she said.

Davenport added that the pandemic has “increased those challenges, exponentially” for those served by Crittenton Services.

One program the nonprofit offers, called Goal Setting Girls, is a 28-week program focusing on social and emotional learning for sixth- and seventh-grade girls from lower-income families.

There is also a 26-week program for girls in high school that provides information “on healthy relationships, careers, post-secondary education, nutrition and fitness and reproductive health and sexuality,” according to the group’s website.

Another program is designed for “young women who are pregnant or parenting.”

“We also have a policy-advocacy arm called ‘Declare Equity for Girls,’ which is a girl-led project where our young ladies are advocating for themselves and for their communities,” Davenport said.

She said Crittenton Services connects with students through school partnerships, and girls who join any of its programs do so voluntarily.

“Our greatest ambassadors are the girls themselves. We have girls who have recommended additional family members, best friends … because what they’re getting from the program is so important to them.”

Davenport added that alumnae have gone on to careers in health care, higher education, the military and politics.

The group’s annual ‘High Tea’ was held virtually this year, on April 22, due to the pandemic.

Crittenton Services said it offers an opportunity for its teens to share “their views on issues impacting their lives and showcase their leadership and advocacy skills” with community leaders.

See original article

Girls of Color Held Their Communities Together During the COVID-19 Crisis

One year ago, I posted the question, “Who does home care fall on?” I warned that COVID-19’s abrupt impact on home dynamics was falling disproportionately on girls, and particularly, girls of color in vulnerable communities. 

Now, after one year in the shadow of a virus, the data is in: the pandemic has had a devastating toll on women. Some experts have referred to this as the “Care Economy,” “Pink pandemic” and  “She-cession” because women have borne the brunt of the crisis by nearly every measure. The gender inequities that existed prior to the pandemic have worsened. 

Our teens were not immune to the impacts of the virus either.

Read the full article

How Philanthropy Can Recover Right from COVID-19

As the daughter of teen parents, I know a thing or 2 about defying conventional expectations for your life. Individual willpower is critical. However, beating the odds is nearly impossible without an environment conducive to success. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been described in many ways, including “The Great Exposer,” for revealing the broken systems, misplaced priorities, and neglected communities in our society. Experts now warn against a K-shaped recovery that will exacerbate the disparities that previously existed.

I’m encouraged by the philanthropic community’s efforts to combat the impacts of the virus and support issues like racial justice and social equity. But, as a Black woman and nonprofit executive, I’ve never been more concerned that funders will inadvertently accelerate the K-shaped recovery by not evolving to meet the moment.

In a post-COVID world, funders have a unique opportunity to recreate the environments conducive to success by shifting how they do philanthropy.

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An internship during the coronavirus pandemic is a crash course in adaptability

BY SARAH FIELDING

April 22, 2020 5:45 PM EDT

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Clarissa Garcia began her internship before COVID-19 hit. Her job at WishSlate Inc., an e-commerce app, was focused on PR and media relations. Unsurprisingly, her tasks quickly rendered incredibly difficult due to the immense focus that the media is having on the virus.

“It’s been pretty frustrating for me,” she considers. “I’ve had no success so far”. But while difficult, this unique situation is giving her an unexpected insight in navigating a start-up during a crisis. Tuning into weekly Skype meetings with the company’s CEO has kept her well informed as to how the company is navigating everything. “I find it helpful, and it keeps me and the rest of the interns engaged,” she says.

Interns like Garcia are used to work hard to prove themselves in temporary positions, but doing that remotely—and in the middle of a global health crisis—definitely add to the challenge. Some of the high schoolers, higher education students, and those who are in full-time, post graduation internships during the school year are lucky enough to make the remote transition. Others are even more fortunate, with their employers offering full-time positions upon graduation. But many are completely left without the experience—and sometimes money—they counted on having.

Laina Milazzo, a second year law student at Touro Law Center, was working as a legal extern at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office in Massachussetts, in the district court bureau. Once COVID-19 hit, all externs were told not to return until further notice. The next day, the courts closed indefinitely. “Since it was an externship we get credit for, they needed to find somewhere for us in order to actually receive credit for all the work we had already done,” says Milazzo. 

She was reassigned to the appeals bureau, which allowed her to do research assignments from home. And she’s adapted: “The research is so different from the work I was doing in the district court bureau,” she says. “But now I have hands-on experience in two totally different bureaus—and I think overall it’ll help my career.” 

Some of the students in Milazzo’s class weren’t able to switch to another department. Although they won’t substitute the hands-on experience of an actual internship, their professor is creating new assignments for them to do in order to still gain knowledge and receive credit for the time they put in already.

Zaria Wilson faced a similar disappointment. A graduating high school senior, she’s been interning at the National Institutes of Health in the Department of Cellular Development and Neurobiology since last June. With her work taking place completely within a lab, the internship had no way to translate to remote work. Plus, her schedule was tied to her Maryland-based school, so the day it shut down, the internship ended.

While Wilson is fortunate to have interned since June, she’s being proactive to make up for the last few months at the lab that she’s losing. “I’ve been doing my best to make up for the last months of the internship by doing some online courses and staying aware of the science field and biology.”

However optimistic, adapting may seem too far-fetched for some. Wilson is worried about how losing her internship stipend will affect her paying for college. While keeping up with her reading and online courses, she’s applying for scholarships. And Sammy, who had graduated from high school last June, wouldn’t be starting college until the fall.

He had been working as an intern in an investing firm in New York City for less than a month when his office was suddenly shut down due to COVID.19. Since then, Sammy hasn’t worked for them, or for anyone else, for that matter.

“I know that people like me (interns) are going to be amongst the last to be hired back,” he fears. “I hope that my school will be well equipped to deal with helping us find opportunities. There aren’t really many for me to pursue right now.”

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