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East Bay Express: A people-focused solution


Students at Montera Middle School in Oakland said the school's eighth-grade class was full of "drama" earlier this year. There had been a fight between two girls, and the conflict had broadened to the girls' friends. Some students "were coming to school in sweats, ready to fight," recalled YariOjeda-Sandel, a staffer at Montera who coordinates the school's new conflict-resolution program known as restorative justice.

The school's principal suspended the two girls who had fought. And when the two students returned to campus, "Miss Yari brought us together," said one of the girls. "Some of the things [the other girl] said — that she had a lot going on [problems outside school] — since I heard that, I felt bad that I fought her for something so small."

Ojeda-Sandel suggested the girls lead what's known as a restorative justice circle, in which they would talk with each other and their friends about their conflict rather than resorting to violence. "We planned it for two weeks," one of the girls explained. "We wrote guidelines. We had stuff to say: 'We should stop being mean towards each other.' And we had questions for them: 'What problems there were, why people spread rumors.'"

One of the friends who attended the circle said she learned "there was no reason for me to fight them. And they said they didn't want to fight. We were listening. And we realized it's done now."

But the discussion went further. Students who had been spreading rumors, said one of the girls who led the circle "acknowledged that. You have to own up sometimes."

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