by Tanya Franklin

Tanya Franklin is UCLA School of Law’s inaugural Education Law Public Service Fellow at MHAS.

Nyoka Acevedo is the Restorative Justice Coordinator at Gompers Middle School. In her guest post below, she shares a unique approach the Gompers team is taking to empower students to co-lead the restorative justice movement.

Gompers Middle School Builds a Restorative School Climate by Empowering Student Senators

We often refer to restorative justice in schools as a paradigm shift that will change the way we enact discipline policies at our school and strengthen relationships between staff and students. We do this via community building circles, restorative dialogue, and harm and conflict circles.  Restorative justice is a whole-school approach, and working in South Los Angeles, this means that we need to consider the impact that trauma and vicarious trauma has on our students.  When creating a trauma-sensitive environment, we must have a shared understanding of how restorative justice functions. We must ensure the safety of students and explicitly connect students to the school community.  After all, one of the core values of restorative justice is relationship building, and by involving young people in school activities they are less likely to engage in behavior that might put them at risk for harm.

Our whole-school restorative justice approach includes creating a taskforce of stakeholders, who will lead the work of shifting the school climate. The Restorative Justice Taskforce at Gompers Middle School is comprised of parents, teachers, counselors and service providers who meet weekly to discuss ways to improve the school culture.  When the taskforce first gathered, we thought about ways to create an inclusive, safe and student-centered environment that provided opportunities for our students to display their leadership skills in a positive manner.  It quickly became clear to us that we wanted to provide a greater sense of community through supporting student leadership. With this vision, we developed the Student Senate.

The Senate was envisioned as the youth leadership body to support positive school-wide change.  Campus-wide elections were held, and there are currently 28 Senators who will work alongside the Restorative Justice Taskforce and Gompers administration to help lead the tide of change.

At Gompers, we believe that youth leadership is a vital part of creating a restorative school climate, and we are confident our students’ sense of resilience and strength will shine as they stand beside us to lead the change.

Thank you, Nyoka, for your vision and your leadership. We’re excited to see the development of the Gompers Student Senate!