The restorative justice coursework within Eastern Mennonite University’s MA in education program – the first of its kind in the United States when launched in the fall in Harrisonburg, Virginia – will be available to educators in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania beginning January 2015.
Like their counterparts in Virginia, Lancaster school leaders, counselors and teachers will be able to pursue an interdisciplinary concentration in restorative justice in education (RJE) by taking courses through the graduate education program at EMU’s Lancaster site. A 15-hour graduate certificate in RJE may be earned by those who already hold, or who aren’t pursuing, a master’s degree.
“Restorative justice offers a completely different model of addressing classroom discipline problems that focuses on building effective relationships both between teachers and students, and among students,” said Kathy Evans, PhD, an education professor who has led the development of the RJE programs.
“While the theories of restorative justice were originally developed as an alternative approach to criminal justice, they have increasingly been embraced by teachers looking for more creative ways to address classroom behavior and create better learning environments” said Evans.
“This program recognizes that how we talk about both harmful and helpful life experiences in school shapes the academic and social growth of students as much as the experiences themselves and may matter more in shaping future behavior than any other single factor,” said Judy Mullet, PhD, professor in the psychology department at EMU. “Graduate education at EMU is a conversation about alternatives to violence that build the common good.”
The RJE graduate program offers different focus options for K-12 educators, administrators or other school leaders, community leaders, and social workers or school counselors. A variety of electives allows for focused study for each of these groups. Participants learn to:
- Promote positive student behavior and increase student achievement and attendance.
- Replace suspensions and expulsions with strategies that work.
- Improve relationships and school climate while increasing instructional time.
Fania Davis, executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland (Calif.) Youth, wrote in a feature for YES! Magazine, that “restorative justice programs in some schools have been so successful at reducing suspension rates – by 74 percent in one case – that the school board has endorsed use of restorative justice throughout the city school system.”
In January 2014, the federal departments of education and justice threw their weight behind restorative justice in the country’s schools. The agencies issued a joint letter calling on teachers and administrators to address the disproportionate rates at which minority and economically disadvantaged students are suspended. Among other initiatives, agencies suggested the use of restorative justice practices to address discipline problems and create healthy learning environments.
With that mandate will come even more opportunity for graduates of EMU’s new RJE concentration or certificate programs, said Evans.
Over the next several years, faculty from the MA in education program and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding will focus on developing new courses, with the goal of eventually creating a full graduate degree in RJE.
“The new programs in restorative justice in education are an excellent example of the mission of our graduate programs, which is to meet needs in the world with our unique combination of expertise, perspective, and values,” said Jim Smucker, vice president and dean of graduate studies.
“This concentration is a result of two graduate programs working together to offer something that is unique to the field of education, and something EMU’s combination of expertise and values can provide to the world,” he added.
The goal is to make the RJE programs broadly accessible, according to Pamela Rutt, assistant director of EMU Lancaster’s MA in education program. Courses will be offered in a variety of formats, including online, blended, and on-site with weekends or week-long intensive summer courses.
Students may begin the program in spring 2015 by taking EDI 501 Circles Processes (on-site) or EDCC 531 Social & Ethical Issues (online) at EMU Lancaster. Additional courses will be offered in summer 2015.