VATN at International Community School

FEBRUARY 10, 2016 at 

 Visual Arts Teachers Network Participants:  Deborah Green/Oakland Tech;   Michelle Lewis/Glenview Elementary; Carissa Moline/New Highland Elementary; Ernest Alatorre/Greenleaf Elementary; Ana Ponce/Skyline High; David Mertens/Oakland High; Jamie Treacy/Skyline; Karen Zinkofsky/Oakland High; Ann Wettrich/OUSD Visual & Performing Arts consultant.

Thanks to OUSD, VAPA staff, Sarah Wilner and Phil Rydeen, for organizing this joint VAPA session on Restorative Justice with David Yusem, OUSD Restorative Justice Program Manager!

  1. Restorative Justice Workshop

Intro.  David began by setting up a circle of chairs with an installation in the center that included musical instruments, oranges, and other colorful objects gathered from around the room that symbolized intentions for the session. After introducing himself and the restorative justice community circle practice, David explained the role of the talking piece (symbolic object) that is passed around the circle and held by the person speaking, as a way to reinforce active listening. We practiced this as we went around the circle to introduce ourselves—name; role at OUSD, and our favorite music and/or dance when we were in middle or high school.

Background.  David then provided more background information about restorative justice and outlined its purpose and basic principles. Rooted in ancient practice, restorative justice was reinvented in a modern context in New Zealand. Based on Maori indigenous community practices, it addressed the issue of Maori overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Family group conferences were organized with offenders, victims and with police officers to hear about the impact of harmful actions on everyone involved. The goal was to stop the cycle of harm, knowing that harmed people harm people. Through this process, they worked on making a plan to remediate harm that is victim oriented and community centered—countering institutionalized criminal justice offender-centric practices and establishing accountability through healing rather than punishment.

Principles & Framework.  The OUSD Restorative Justice provides a philosophical framework (not a curriculum) and is a culture shift in breaking the cycle of crime and punishment. The criminal justice system asks three questions:

  • What law was broken?
  • Who broke it?
  • What is the punishment

In contrast the restorative justice approach asks:

  • What harm was caused?
  • What are the resulting needs?
  • What is the obligation to make it right?
  • Who needs to come together to restore justice?

It is difficult to have this kind of conversation without a sense of community in place that everyone feels connected to. Therefore, the first priority is on community building in an environment that is equitable and promotes learning and social/emotional engagement.  David went on to explain their three-tiered program model that includes community building, harm/conflict engagement and individual support.

OUSD Context & Resources.  In OUSD many students are suffering from trauma and are in the fight/flight/freeze zone, where it takes courage to just show up at school. Learning cannot happen for traumatized students, whose sometimes disruptive, defiant behavior can enact harm on others. How can we use restorative justice to better understand and break this cycle? Restorative Justice Resources and tools can be found at this comprehensive link.

  1. Next Visual Arts Teacher Network Session: March 9th, 2-4 at Oakland High School, hosted by David Merton.

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