ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — After an uptick in violence at Rochester City schools, Superintendent Dr. Lesli Myers Small released a plan to address the ongoing challenges facing students and staff.
Part of that plan included offering more mental and emotional health support. The district’s RocRestorative team, which has been around since 2015, has been a part of that effort.
News 8’s Ally Peters had the chance to catch up with RocRestorative’s acting leader, Angelica Matias, to hear about how the group has been assisting schools during these difficult times.
Matias said the RocRestorative team is made up of six members who are teachers, social workers, and counselors. They have all worked in the Rochester City School district before.
“We provide supports for schools to become more restorative spaces and cultures and climates. What that really means is that there’s a commitment in those spaces to include all voices, to make decisions based on input from all stakeholders, to prioritize the building and strengthening of relationships,” Matias said.
Since the beginning of the school year, RocRestorative has responded to 47 requests from more than 25 different schools. One of their main focuses: finding the root cause of why a student may be behaving the way they are.
“When something occurs, a conflict or an incident that causes harm, there’s really an effort to repair relationships and solve conflict in a manner that addresses the root cause of that and the needs of those involved,” Matias said.
Matias said their response works on keeping students in class, which is important for their futures.
“It’s incredibly important that if our students are to succeed academically, that they’re present and they’re engaged in the classroom learning. So this way of responding to those types of incidences really tries to make sure that whatever caused the behavior, whatever caused the need for this response, is truly addressed so that it doesn’t become an ongoing issue.”
She added that the group focuses on finding the unmet needs of students and working on building skills in them so that they can make different choices in the future, allowing them to stay in school.
“Those punitive punishments and exclusionary practices where students are removed really tend to lead to that school to prison pipeline, as opposed to really as a community showing that there’s another way to get back in right relationship and to remain in school and learning,” Matias said.
Not only is RocRestorative offering support for students during this time, but also for staff. Matias says this includes following up after certain incidents, offering ways to build better relationships, and providing proactive practices, like community building circles.
“We have members from our team go in and facilitate those community building conversations, games, etc., and it’s more than just about that. There are different layers even to the community building. It’s getting to know themselves, each other, it’s talking about expectations and coming to agreements about how students and their teachers work together and be together in those spaces and how to resolve conflicts when they come up,” Matias said.
The group also offers professional development series, which are open to all schools. Matias said currently 20 schools are taking advantage of these series, 8 high schools and 12 elementary schools.
“They’re really learning about how to come together as a team and create an action plan for their school to make their school more restorative,” Matias said. “We’re really examining, reflecting on what’s already in existence in their school in terms of restorative practices, and then helping coach them through a process of developing some goals and ways to measure those goals.”
While RocRestorative says they are happy to be helping students and staff, they also say there are things parents and guardians can be doing at home to help.
“I think just really having conversations with students about who are the trusted adults in their building that they can go to when something comes up, and how they can respond to issues of conflicts with something other than violence or fighting or a physical reaction,” Matias said.
To learn more about RocRestorative, click here.