Honoring Native American Heritage, Culture and Accomplishments in November

Honoring Native American Heritage, Culture and Accomplishments in November

November 1 kicked off Native American Heritage month, a month not only to celebrate indigenous cultures and contributions, but to learn about the rich history of all American tribes. This month also honors the indigenous people’s ability to overcome the unique challenges they have faced over the years.

The Boy Scouts of America were the first to have a dedicated “First Americans” day at the behest of Dr. Arthur C. Parkers, Director of the Museum of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed a joint resolution that called for the month of November to be designated as “Native American Indian Heritage Month.” In 2008, the language of the resolution was amended to include Alaskan Natives.

As of 2021, there were 574 federally recognized Native American tribes and 6.79 million Native Americans with their own cultures, traditions and histories. The historically known narrative of Native Americans, however, has been largely told through a Western perspective, not a Native perspective. The month of November highlights the chance to learn from the stories of those who lived history; however, we have the chance to respect and learn throughout the entire year.

November also gives us the change to acknowledge the trauma indigenous nations have suffered — from colonization to genocide — and their continued struggles with stereotyping and cultural disrespect. By taking the time to learn from the offered stories and history of Native Americans, we can shift the narrative to a more historically accurate perspective that allows Native Americans to speak to their lived experiences.

Restorative justice originated from indigenous communities use of peacemaking circles to address and repair harm within a group. Restorative justice focuses on the harm done, restoring relationships, and building community. It can be used in a variety of settings, including schools. At UP Partnership, we highlight the importance of healing circles in our Restorative Practices Collaborative. Circles can provide a safe space for students that allows them to heal from experienced trauma, while fostering a community of support and understanding.

“While the language of restorative justice is contemporary, the [Indigenous] foundation of it is always seeking restoration and renewal to find the well-being of the community,” one partner recently explained in an interview. These circles make up a large part of the teachings from our partners such as American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial MissionsEmpower House, and IDRA and engagement within three school districts in Bexar County – JudsonHarlandale and San Antonio ISDs.

Restorative justice is just one way UP Partnership and its partners are implementing healing within Bexar County’s young people. Healing — along with Access and Voice — are the equity pillars that drive Future Ready Bexar County, a community wide plan that serves as UP Partnership’s strategic plan.

By having practices such as peacemaking circles that help young people recognize and talk out their issues, young people in Bexar County are receiving valuable conflict resolution tactics that increase healing. The work our partners do in restorative justice will be key as we collectively work toward the North Star goal of the Future Ready Bexar County Plan — to increase the percentage of Bexar County High School’s graduates enrolling in postsecondary degree or credential programs to 70% by 2030.

Restorative Practice Collaborative plans next steps for Peace Room implementation in the 2021-2022 school year

Restorative Practice Collaborative plans next steps for Peace Room implementation in the 2021-2022 school year

The members of the Restorative Practices Collaborative (RPC) recently participated in an UMOJA planning session, collaborated on next steps, and reflected on the impact of COVID-19 in their schools—ultimately planning the best next steps to implement restorative practices into their schools for the 2021-2022 school year. The collaborative is an extension of the My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio (MBKSA) network and is facilitated by UP Partnership’s Community Learning department.

UMOJA, a longtime training partner, led the discussions for high school and elementary school campus leaders to plan for the implementation of restorative practices in the upcoming academic year.

Why is this important?
RPC and its 160 partners, including three Bexar County school districts (San Antonio ISD, Judson ISD and Harlandale ISD), Bexar County Juvenile Detention Center, Martinez Street Women’s Center, American Indians in Texas, and Intercultural Development Research Association are focused on integrating restorative practices into their institutions and throughout the community, changing the narrative that punitive practices should take the place of healing and restoration.

This community-wide commitment to restorative justice is part of UP Partnership’s goal of moving from “punishment to healing,” one of the core equity pillars of the Citywide Planning for a Future Ready Bexar County process.

Throughout the year, UP Partnership will be featuring various elements of restorative practices, what they are, and the changes they can make.

What are peace circles?

Peace Circles are just one method used in the implementation of restorative practices, but have proven to be powerful. To understand how peace circles lead to restorative justice, we need to understand what they are. According to UMOJA, a training, facilitation, and implementation partner, the purpose of a peace circle is to “bring together students who have had conflict in order to discuss what happened, identify feelings and needs moving forward, share how conflict has impacted individuals [and the] community, and create steps to repair harm.”

  • Peace circles typically have these elements:
    • A talking piece, which allows for deeper communication and expression
    • Elements of modern peacemaking and consensus building processes to heal
    • And are based on traditions of indigenous people in North America
  • Peace circles involve four stages of student engagement:
    • Acceptance
    • Preparation
    • Gathering
    • Follow-up

What’s next
In addition to work around postsecondary access and youth voice, UP Partnership is facilitating conversations with restorative justice partners across Bexar County. Within the next couple of months, school districts and community organizations will also begin creating space at their institutions called Peace Rooms for the 2021-2022 school year. To learn more about restorative justice practices, please also reference the Alternative Discipline Guide, developed by the MBKSA network.

– By Paulina Sosa

My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio network creates Alternative Discipline Guide to transform punitive discipline practices in schools

My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio network creates Alternative Discipline Guide to transform punitive discipline practices in schools

My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio (MBKSA) has released the Alternative Discipline Guide, a systems-change policy review to guide partners in reforming and reimagining next steps for implementing restorative justice practices.

MBKSA, one of four networks at UP Partnership, focuses on removing barriers to success for boys and young men of color. That includes reducing punitive discipline practices, building bridges for mentorship, and connecting justice-involved young people with opportunities.

Why is this important?
MBKSA partners have identified punitive discipline practices as a barrier to success for boys and young men of color. Already, nine campuses at three local school districts have implemented restorative justice practices in place of punitive practices and have experienced varying degrees of success.

Also known as “alternative discipline” practices, restorative justice is used in an effort to restore and heal the cycle of violence, poverty, and persistent access issues for justice-involved young people. The guide, created by the MBKSA Policy Table and Restorative Justice Working Group and UP Partnership staff, will inform schools, organizations, and city leaders on understanding and implementing restorative practices.

Digging Deeper
To appreciate the benefits of this guide, it’s important to understand the difference between the two terms (punitive versus alternative discipline):

Punitive Discipline Practices

Restorative Discipline Practices

Definition

Aiming to punish the “wrongdoer”

(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

“A mindset that values relationships at the center of community life.” 
(UMOJA)

Typical discipline practices in schools

Suspension, corporal punishment, and/or detention

Classroom circles, teacher training, and/or peace circles

Aim

To punish the misbehavior and the person who misbehaved

To understand the roots of the misbehavior and restore broken relationships

Punitive discipline practices

  • Wrong doer is punished
  • Consequences include suspension, detention and corporal punishment
  • Person who misbehaved must be held accountable (i.e. punished)

Restorative discipline practices

  • Practices are formed from a relational approach to building school climate and addressing behavior
  • Classroom circles, teacher training and peace circles are common practices in the institution
  • Accountability is defined as understanding the effects of the offense and repairing harm

From the Field
Beyond implementation of practices at various campuses, some MBKSA partners have taken their work to the next level. For example, San Antonio ISD has integrated restorative justice elements into their Student Bill of Rights and Code of Conduct. The University of Texas at San Antonio has hired a Director of Restorative Justice, which sets the precedent for integrated restorative discipline into university settings — moving beyond the typical K-12 setting. Alamo Colleges and Judson ISD also are hiring a Chief Equity Officer. And lastly, the City of San Antonio has made investments into violence prevention, which includes restorative justice practices in schools.

What’s next
This guide has the power to go beyond the MBKSA network. By sharing the guide with a larger network, MBKSA partners have the ability to move from punishment to healing.

— By Paulina Sosa

“Restorative justice focuses on the harm done, restoring relationships, and building community.”
Alternative Discipline Guide

Restorative Justice pilot initiative proves successful despite shortened academic year

Restorative Justice pilot initiative proves successful despite shortened academic year

The University of Texas at San Antonio releases evaluation of My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio’s pilot restorative justice program

After one academic year, eight out of nine campuses that participated in My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio’s (MBKSA) pilot restorative justice initiative have shown progress on first-year implementation indicators, according to an evaluation by The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). Restorative justice is a whole school approach to building a positive school climate and addressing harm.

 

“Though the year was cut short due to COVID-19, what we see in this report is promising. The passionate and clearly committed school teams can expect to see continued results if they follow the recommendations we made in the report. Having a clear vision grounded in social justice, using best practices and committing to removing barriers at the individual, school and district levels will be necessary for significant systemic change with long term impact for our community,” said Jelena Todic, principal investigator and assistant professor in the UTSA College for Health, Community and Policy.  

MBKSA launched whole school restorative justice models at nine campuses in the San Antonio, Judson and Harlandale school districts during the 2019-2020 academic year with support from UTSA restorative justice researchers and practitioners, Robert Rico and Todic.

 

MBKSA, a network of community-based organizations, school districts, UTSA, and city and county government, formed the Rethinking Discipline Community of Practice (RDCP), which met monthly to discuss best practices and implementation strategies. The RDCP is one strategy MBKSA uses to tackle inequities in education. Local disaggregated data shows that exclusionary discipline practices disproportionately affect young people of color, especially boys.  

 

Despite a disruption in the academic year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of schools that implemented the restorative justice model achieved increased commitment to restorative practices, changing dialogue and increased options for managing behavior. Additionally, all schools provided various elements of the practice such as professional development for staff, peace rooms and ‘circles’ to build community and resolve conflict among staff and students.

 

Restorative justice provides opportunities for my son to share his thoughts and feelings in a safe space. Circles also help him learn more about his classmates and their experiences,” said Paula Johnson, a parent and the Director of IDRA EAC-South.

 

Because they prioritize relationships and community, restorative justice practices became critical during the pandemic because social emotional learning became a high priority while working in a virtual environment. 

 

“We know that having an administration that is committed to this process is critical to success for any whole-school restorative justice model. What we saw in this academic year was that these tools we’d established in schools were actually critical during the pandemic” Todic said.

 

Because of the initiative’s infancy, especially in light of the COVID-19 interruption, it is promising that four schools decreased suspensions and one maintained low rates throughout the project. Additionally, three out of eight schools showed signs of reducing disproportionate impact of exclusionary discipline on children of color. 

 

“By shifting mindsets and creating a culture of supportive accountability in schools, we set up our boys and young men of color for greater success not only in school, but into adulthood. MBKSA has been committed to providing pathways for boys and young men of color to college success and I believe this is critical to this work,” said Derek Taylor, MBKSA Justice-involved Young People Chair and Senior Management Coordinator for Stand-Up SA at the City of San Antonio’s Metro Health District.