Part 1: Reframing the notion of extraordinary
I started this blog as part of my Teachers for Global Classrooms experience, to share my travels to Colombia this summer. I'm anticipating a transformative experience - one that will change how I think about the world and how I think about my place in the world. Yes, extraordinary begets extraordinary.
Today I was reminded how the ordinary - the day-to-day rhythms and rhymes - holds the nuggets of remarkable, too.
Now, to be fair, I believe that the little school at which I work is atypical. Mountain Mahogany is a special place. I could write volumes about the unique qualities of our school; for now, I will say that I am not surprised that my day at school was so moving and so life-giving because it's happened before and, lucky me, I think it will happen again...and again.
Part 2: Ashes and Broken Hearts
In August, 2013, just a few weeks after we started our school year, our campus was vandalized - graffiti, damage to students' belongings, broken glass, and multiple fires set.
From video cameras on campus, we learned that the crimes were committed by 4 young teenagers - middle schoolers.
They do not attend our school, but when I looked at my students, I couldn't help but see the kids who hurt our school and hurt our community. We were sad. We were angry. And many of us adults felt the crushing weight of what could and would happen to those kids.
I cried thinking about how, as teachers and as a school, we are in the business of nurturing lives. I was scared that we'd somehow be contributing to the prison-to-school pipeline. Was there not another way?
Several community members came across the idea of Restorative Justice during those days, and our school co-founder, David, acted with grace and dignity, with love and compassion. He pursued a restorative justice process with and for the kids, their families and our community.
Part 3: Restorative Justice
Members of our community have been working through this process for several months. Our school director, Kendra, and our head teacher, Jessica, participated in a process last week with 2 of the boys, their families and facilitators. At that circle, Kendra requested that the boys come to Mountain Mahogany to come face to face with our students and faculty.
What would this be like for the boys? For our students? For us adults?
The boys spent about 4.5 hours today visiting all 9 classes, grades K - 8. I had the privilege of being with each of the middle school classes for each session. Before each discussion, my students expressed feelings of apprehension. At least one student in each class expressed anger and the desire to 'tell them how I really feel.' We talked about how it was, indeed, appropriate to ask questions. It was good to express our feelings.
The boys arrived with Kendra, stood before all of us and they ...... owned up. They told the story of that night; of how they were scared and paranoid about being caught after they saw surveillance footage on TV. They described what it was like to be arrested in front of their families.
3 nights in juvenile detention. Court proceedings. Being charged with multiple felonies. Parole officers. Curfews. Random drug tests.
The boys were nervous. They were courageous.
It was a moving experience. I could not get over how they could have been our own students at our school. I was moved by how Kendra reminded all of us that doing bad things doesn't make us bad people. The boys shared that they thought there would be yelling and raw anger. But, there wasn't.
Our students were curious and empathic. They asked questions and shared their own feelings. Many reflected afterwards how they wanted to be angry, but that when they heard the boys' stories they could see themselves. A student expressed how now they understood what Mountain Mahogany means by 'second chances.' One wise 7th grader asked, "Do you ever wish there was a reset button and you could go back to before you vandalized our school?" And one of the boys said no. No. He said he was glad he was caught before he got into more trouble.
The other two kids involved violated probation, have not been cooperative, and will, unfortunately, likely travel the path of the criminal justice system. The boys with us today, one 14 years old and the other 15, will do 9-weeks of service in our garden and on our campus during the summer.
Today I saw how lives were changed. I hope the boys make it - that they not only clutch the second chance, but, more importantly, that they are supported through this second chance.
I looked into the faces of my students and I knew that they would remember today. They had the opportunity to exercise empathy and compassion. They were witness to kids - just like them in so many ways - asking for forgiveness. They held the boys in high regard and with respect. The process demystified the notion of what they'd envisioned about the people who hurt our school.The process exalted our humanity.
I have profound gratitude to our co-founder, David. I am so proud to be part of a community who had the courage to act with compassion. It's so easy to react out of anger, fear, and mistrust. Today, we all were students. We all learned a lesson about how there's a path that includes justice, consequences, redemption, forgiveness, support and healing.
I am changed. An ordinary day at school turned extraordinary.
I am changed.
Diane Gunn Miles
5/15/2014 02:27:40 pm
Jen, how wonderful for everyone this went full circle.Thanks for sharing.
5/16/2014 12:51:09 pm
This is amazing Jen! I'm glad you captured the day and shared it here. It moved me tears to see those boys come in so vulnerable and own up to what they'd done. It was also an amazing lesson for the little ones in taking responsibility and being given second chances. Several of them shared that they also wanted to cry when they heard the boys' story. It was indeed a life changing experience.
5/18/2014 01:39:57 am
Thank you so much for sharing this profound experience with us. I was moved to tears by the end of the article and so grateful that my granddaughter is part of this incredible school. If these two boys do choose a different, healthier path, MMCS will have played a major role in those choices.
5/20/2014 11:51:33 am
A wonderful story of hope and compassion. Just as you were changed others will be too. I am grateful that my Grandson, Liam, is a learner at MM, a remarkable place!!
5/23/2014 05:22:35 am
This is so beautiful. I am forever changed by this school, as are my children, I am not surprised at the depth of which the compassion has rooted. Such an honor to share some history with MMCS.
Mary Sue Burns
5/28/2014 10:11:49 am
What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing this. It sounds like a lot of healing took place.
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