Struggling student at Buxmont Elementary in Pottstown becomes a leader

This story was published in Restorative Works 2011-2012 (PDF), the annual publication of the Restorative Practices Foundation

A sixth-grade girl (we’ll call “Kara”) was struggling with destructive anger outbursts but learned how to express her feelings in a healthy way and become a leader at the Buxmont Elementary Program at Pottstown.

The first CSF Buxmont program to serve young children, Buxmont Elementary opened in January (at the request of the Pottstown, Pa., school district) and has made great strides helping students improve behavior and academics through restorative practices. (Community Service Foundation [CSF] and Buxmont Academy are IIRP model programs.)

School coordinator Jessica Petrolati told Kara’s story. On her second day, during an unfamiliar process talking about feelings, Kara began yelling and banging things around, ran from the room and broke a window. After Jessica and Kara talked a bit and she calmed down, Jess told Kara that the next day they would need to discuss the “restorative questions.”

The next day Kara said she was very ashamed of her behavior, and Jess asked her the first restorative question: “What happened?” Kara’s answer: “I got mad.” Period. She had never been asked to discuss her feelings before. When she got mad, she yelled and broke things, said she was sorry and that was the end of it. “That’s not the way we do things here,” said Jess. “You’re going to have to talk about it.” Jess then went through the other restorative questions: “What were you thinking about at the time?” “Who do you think was affected by your actions?” “What can you do to make things right?” Kara opened up and answered each one.

That afternoon Kara talked with her fellow students in group, apologizing for her behavior. The other kids not only accepted her apology, but they also gave her advice on how they deal with anger.

Kara’s outbursts became milder and less frequent as she learned how to talk about her emotions. Her mom also saw a big change in Kara’s behavior at home. Kara taught her parents about the restorative questions. When she got angry, Kara asked her parents, who had never talked about such things, “Can we talk about it?”

And when other kids in school had an issue, Kara would help them out by asking them questions and helping them talk about their feelings.