The restorative approach in Nova Scotia: A partnership of government, communities and schools
Apr 27, 2011
....There is now a significant interest across Nova Scotia to bring the restorative approach to schools. Said Pat Gorham, director of crime prevention for the Nova Scotia Department of Justice, “Our provincial government is trying to find out what the capacity might be for RJ in Nova Scotia, identifying frameworks that might be put into place for schools that want to participate. The work has largely been from the community up. All pilot programs are at the local level, with individual school administrators opting to commit to a restorative approach, supported by regional RJ agencies.”
The Tri-County Restorative Justice agency exemplifies this integration; it handles diversion of police-referred youth, and it founded Bringing Restorative Justice into Schools, the first project to develop a program using restorative approaches within schools in Nova Scotia. This program trains students throughout the province as RJ facilitators.
Attorney Emma Halpern began her work in restorative approaches as a project manager for this program. Said Halpern, “We began with a discipline model, using student facilitators for restorative practices, and have expanded to using teacher circles in classrooms, talking with administrators and staff about how to engage and discuss to create a culture of respect, and reaching out into the larger community through classrooms.”
“What we’re really [trying to achieve] is a culture shift, which takes a lot of thought and a lot of time,” she continued. “This is far more than a checklist of ‘Are you using circles? Have you had a restorative conversation today?’ What it takes is to have everybody in that school thinking differently about how they relate with each other and the community at large.”
Program benefits have included a more positive and collegial environment among staff, resulting in fewer staff absentee days, a higher level of student involvement in school life, and dramatic reductions in discipline referrals.