KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Southeast High School in Kansas City, Missouri, has a class like no other, a class where a group of teens who feel powerless have a voice.
The Restorative Justice class, which started during in 2017, is unique in the KC area, but could serve as a model for other schools.
“Restorative Justice helps you learn what you did,” one of the students said, "resolve what you did, and learn how to help others resolve that same conflict if you run into somebody else that did that.”
The class is broken down into three tiers: community building in regular classrooms, conferences and mediations to re-assimilate students, and re-entry circles for students who've been removed from school.
“We call them (the students) alternative leadership," Restorative Justice instructor Reginald Berry said. "Half of them have been through our process last year, meaning they found themselves in conflict.”
The students in this program at one time served in-school or out-of-school suspension. Some were even in a conflict that ultimately led to criminal charges.
Lauren Anderson is a senior in the program. She said it's helped her go from an admitted troublemaker to someone who help stops trouble before it starts with her peers.
Anderson also has learned is the importance and value of empathy
“A feeling and healing process," she said.
Sarah Eblen also teaches the class, which has added signficance given that one-third of all homicide suspects or victims in KCMO are in their teens or early 20s, with Berry.
"We could give this program to someone who already has these skills, who was taught at home or some point in their lives, but what real change would that make," Eblen said.
The most common way people give away their power is by thinking they don’t have any, and it's easy to think you don’t have any (power) when adults believe they have all the answers.
But as Anderson points out, sometimes a lot of listening and a little bit of empathy can go a very long way.
“Less conflict would lead to less suspensions, and less suspensions leads to higher attendance, and higher attendance leads to more learning, more learning leads to higher test scores, and higher test scores leads to more funding for the school," she said.
That way, everyone wins.