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While the rest of Garfield STEM Magnet and Community School was busy settling back into the swing of things after the first bell of the school year rang Wednesday, Erin Chávez was focused on something else.
As the school's restorative practices coordinator, her first priority was to sit her students in a circle and check in with them on how they were feeling about being back at school.
Given that they'd only been back a few minutes, many of them were still a bit anxious.
“I was shaking the entire time I was getting ready. I was so nervous,” one student said.
Garfield is in its second full year of a schoolwide effort to bake restorative practices into students' daily learning, Principal Joshua LaClair said, which involves making time for activities during class time as well as teaching students how to lead them.
For the most part, the aim of the activities is for students to listen to their peers and keep tabs on how they're doing. That's why Chávez has a strict “no crosstalk” rule during her circle activities.
“We do our check-ins because we want to support those people, right?” she said to her class. “If someone's feeling nervous or anxious, you're not going to make their day harder.”
Implementing restorative practices isn't just about “connection circles,” LaClair noted – it also includes different ways of handling discipline, like avoiding suspending students as much as possible in favor of things like meetings between staff, students and families, mediation and other conflict resolution strategies.
“(It's) to help keep kids in school,” he said.
Garfield's project is part of a larger effort to make more use of restorative practices across Albuquerque Public Schools, district spokeswoman Johanna King said.
They've commonly come up in school board conversations about discipline in recent months, and the New Mexico Public Education Department in June encouraged districts to implement them in part to help cut down on suspensions and expulsions.
“It's kind of a district philosophy now,” King said.