By Clay Chalupa
As an adult youth worker at Gale, representing Project NIA, I try to model appropriate behavior and follow the rules and guidelines of the Chicago Public School system. I find that setting an example and showing positive enthusiasm for personal accountability, are useful skills for developing relationships and teaching values.
There is one thing, however, that I must confess: I am often TARDY.
“Hi, Ms. Clay! Hi, Ms. Clay!”, is a lovely and gratifying sound when I hear it from the neighborhood youth. Moms, crossing guards, teachers, stop me and talk. It can take me fifteen minutes to get into the building. “When can you meet with me? When can you see my child?” “I lost your card. Do you have another?”
This small snapshot of my morning walk to school may not, at first glance, sound impressive or monumental yet it is a meaningful representation of a hugely important movement whose time has come and how it has been growing in Rogers Park.
RESTORATIVE JUSTICE. RESTORATIVE LENS. BUILDING COMMUNITY. TEACHING OUR YOUTH WHAT IT MEANS TO BE ACCOUNTABLE. DRAMATICALLY DECREASING THE NUMBERS OF OUR YOUTH FROM GOING FROM THE SCHOOL TO JAIL TO PRISON PIPELINE.
There is a movement that has been set into motion. There are bodies of research, initiatives, academic papers, and policies that clearly show that this is a paradigm that not only works, but must be implemented widely as the solely retributive criminal justice system cannot sustain itself without it.
In September of 2010, “Ms. Clay” arrived and opened Project NIA’s Peace Room. Trying to explain why a student who had disrupted class and hit another student with his book bag would be an excellent candidate for restorative work (peace circles, restorative counseling/case management, creative and meaningful activities and individual support) was a major challenge. “He thinks he is being rewarded for being bad!” was not an uncommon response.
There are those who still do not understand that “teaching” accountability is best done by instilling a sense of belonging to a community, but we don’t hear it very often at Gale School anymore. We are busy doing our restorative circles, counseling, and case management.
The need for our work had widened and deepened. I cannot even get to school on time.