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Restorative practices changes student behavior

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Buffalo's Science Magnet PS 59 is part of a pilot program for Positive Behavior Systems using Restorative Practices. WBFO'S Focus on Education Reporter Eileen Buckley said the school recently invited members of a Brooklyn public school to provide training on how to change behavior and promote cooperation. 

Students from Buffalo's Science Magnet school and Brooklyn-based School for Democracy and Leadership enjoyed a picnic  at Martin Luther King Park on a beautiful, sunny afternoon after three days of training.

Staffers at the Brooklyn school were professionally trained in Restorative Practices and wanted to share it with the Buffalo students.  It was accomplished with the help of two sisters. One who works at the Buffalo school, the other at the Brooklyn school.  

"And we saw that they were having a lot of success and wanted to learn more about how they did it, similar population in their school as we have in ours," said Liese Zilberleyt, Social Work at Science Magnet.  She contacted her sister, Emilie Mittiga, Assistant Principal at the Brooklyn school.

"I think one of the things that's been really exciting in the trainings we've been doing is we both experienced separately when you get trained often by outside organizations, they're not people that are in school, so they are not necessarily experiencing the day to day reality of the behavior, the needs of what students and staff are walking into the buildings with," said Mittiga. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Emilie Mittiga, Assistance Principal at School for Democracy & Leadership, Liese Zilberleyt, Social Worker at Science Magnet School and Ryan Dalton, teacher at School for Democracy & Leadership.

Mittiga traveled with ten of her students from Brooklyn to work with the Buffalo students.

"So we've been talking a lot today about just the root of where anger comes from and what those feelings are. The need to let over the need for power and the fact that you know being in a building is not about controlling the children, it's about sharing the responsibilities with with another," said Mittiga.

The term restorative practices was derived from restorative justice. Restorative justice is a way to respond to crime and wrongdoing by working to build relationships. 

In education, restorative practices works to reduce behavior troubles, violence and bullying. It it is a goal of the Buffalo School district goal to bring restorative practices at all schools.

"In our school, we want to be a restorative school, so we want to be working as a community, not so punitive, very supportive and empathetic toward our students," noted Zilberleyt.            

Both schools are SIG schools. They're in need of improvement.  Zilberleyt offers an example of how to change the school's response to bad behavior. "One of the big components of restorative practices is doing these circles and they taught us some skills around doing these circles -- these daily circles to help the students and the staff," stated Zilberleyt.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
A picnic at MLK Park followed three days of restorative practice training at the Science Magnet School.

Will Keresztes, Buffalo's Associate Superintendent for Student Support Services, attended the picnic.

"This is a great example of two schools coming together and what better then celebrating on a playground -- the harmony and unity we want to get from restorative practices," said Keresztes.

Keresztes has been pushing for restorative practices and said principals and teachers are stepping up in many schools.

"It's not so much a strategy and implementing things as a one shot. This is really a philosophy and a framework of the place at the table that all our students really need to have at our schools," said Keresztes.  

Science Magnet School Principal Denisca Thompson says  they are in the beginning stages of implementing restorative practices. 

"We've had training from other sources, but I have to say getting trained from schools that are very similar to ours, they have the same problems they have same the conditions they go through the same budget constraints," stated Thompson.   

"No one is beyond restoration. No one is beyond healing," said Ryan Dalton, teacher at School for Democracy and Leadership, Brooklyn.

Principal Thompson said they've already notice some reductions in suspension rates at the school compared to past years.

"We've had a state review and for social and emotional behavior, we were rated effective, and last year we received a developing score, so we're moving hard, we're moving along, baby steps, but we are going to get there," said Thompson. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Students work together in a restorative practices circle to communicate and work on behavior.

Ryan Dalton is a teacher at the Brooklyn school and traveled to Buffalo to offer his expertise. "No one is beyond restoration. No one is beyond healing," said Dalton.

Dalton said restorative 'practices it is a 'way of being'.
 "When an infraction occurs it does something to upset, disrupt or hurt a community, individuals in the community, and it's the idea that can be restored and that it doesn't have to be dealt with in imputative measures," noted Dalton. "However it is dealt with it should lead to healing and restoration for all involved."
The Brooklyn students worked with the city students to show them how to communicate with one another.  Shayni Webley is an 11th grader at the  Brooklyn based school. 

"They didn't really talk to each other. They didn't really connect as well as we did in our school," said Webley.

Science Magnet School 5th grader  Joseph Haskins explained what he learned from restorative practice training. "I learned that you're always supposed to respect the talking piece and always listen with respect and talk with respect, also you are supposed to talk from the heart," said Haskins.

Science Magent School 7th grader Imani Wilkins also learned to listen and be respectful.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Looking inside a restorative practice circle conducted at MLK Park by Science Magnet School students and trainers from the School of Democracy & Leadership in Brooklyn.

"I learned that you are supposed to show respect. Don't be rude, so that you care for one another and don't judge," said Wilkins.
Ehku Say, a 7th grader Science Magment, said at first he thought it was boring, but then learned that it was interesting.  "In circle, I learn about how to communicate with each other, like show respect," said Say. "The thing about circle that I like is that when you have a chance to communicate with each other -- it's team work."
Students demonstrated how the circle works during their picnic.  Students formed a large circle inside the park.  Each person would state a one word to describe how they were feeling. "Excited, fantastic, very exciting, magnificent inspiration, wonderful...enlighting, fun, wow, inspiring, exciting refreshed."
Science Magnet social worker Liese Zilberleyt now wants to travel to her sisters school in Brooklyn to watch and learn more about restorative practices. She's created a 'Go-Fund-Me' account to raise the needed funds to travel to Brooklyn.  

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