Piloted in 2006 - 2007, Empowering Youth is a joint initiative between CERA and School District 43 to train and support students in the use of restorative justice principles. As an effective alternative to traditional discipline practices, restorative justice builds internal capacity within schools by equipping students with foundational life skills in conflict/dispute resolution and effective problem solving.
Through two locally designed curriculums (Talking Peace - designed for elementary students and Conversation Peace - designed for middle and secondary students), Empowering Youth equips students with skills in conflict resolution and empowers them to be actively involved in assisting fellow students in handling school conflicts in peaceful ways.
Students who serve as peer mediators are trained in the areas of understanding conflict, active listening, problem solving, appreciating diversity and strategies for managing difficult conversations. Once trained, student mediators work in pairs, under the supervision of a trained adult, to assist fellow students who are in conflict.
Students who have caused harm are given the opportunity to learn the impact of an offence on the victim, to take responsibility for their actions, and to assist in developing a strategy to help repair any harm that was caused. The restorative process provides opportunities for offenders to explain their actions and express remorse directly to those who have been harmed.
Students who have been harmed are given a voice to their experience, by being given the opportunity to share what harm was incurred by the incident. Those harmed are able to ask the questions necessary to forward their own healing and to work out a fair response directly with the person who caused harm. Subsequently, those harmed normally feel validated and most often receive an apology for what happened.
By empowering youth to address their own issues, administration and staff are more accessible to deal with serious issues. When students are equipped to restore relationships affected by conflict schools become safer and more peaceful learning environments for all members, which in turn creates safer communities in which those schools are located.
In 2007 - 2008, Empowering Youth trained 87 students to be peer mediators.
It is recognized that there are larger conflicts that can occur among students; conflicts that are too complex for students to resolve themselves. As a result, in 2011, a fiscal partnership with School District 43 was established, whereby, CERA would facilitate restorative justice mediation processes in schools.
Addressing conflict simply through punitive measures such as suspension is not very effective and does little to resolve underlying issues. Conflicts not resolved effectively, breed an environment that is vulnerable to further disputes. Given the scope and number of responsibilities that teachers and administrators have, it is challenging for them to spend significant time dealing with a specific incident. CERA's substantial expertise in this area serves to assist schools within School District 43 resolve disputes with an approach that would promote safer schools.
Punishment alone is not sufficient to educate youth to modify their conduct, and often does not hold them accountable for their actions or repair harm done. A better approach to reach these objectives is to utilize restorative justice processes such as victim - offender mediation and conferencing. This would not only provide a just response to the offence, but would educate youth to develop positive skills. Restorative justice provides opportunities for offenders to explain their actions and express remorse directly to victims, and for victims to ask questions and voice how they have been impacted by the event. Through such dialogue, all affected parties can begin to achieve closure by participating in addressing the specific harms done.
If a conflict occurs within a school, administrators may contact CERA to facilitate restorative justice mediation processes. Upon receiving request, a pre-meeting will be arranged with the parties prior to mediation. If it is determined that a mediation given the context will be beneficial, then it would proceed to that stage. In mediation, facilitators will hold a restorative justice circle where the harmed party and the offender will sit and have an opportunity to speak their side of the story. The role of the facilitators will be to assist with the dialogue, ensure that the situation is not escalating, and making certain that the issues relating to the conflict are addressed. Through the effective use of the process, a resolution can be reached among the parties.
The initial mediations that have been completed in a number of schools have shown significantly positive results. Restorative justice mediations have served extremely well in resolving conflicts between parties, and furthermore, it has been identified that those who participate in this process rarely re-offend.