IMSA launches Restorative Justice program

This article was first published by the Indianapolis Recorder
The Indiana Math and Science Academy North has introduced an alternative to out-of-school suspension. Its Restorative Justice program launched fall 2023 with an original cohort of four students.

Chris Crowder, dean of students at IMSA North, uses the knowledge he gained from advanced coursework in adolescent neurodevelopment to work with students in areas such as conflict resolution.

“I was thinking one day that, ‘Hey, we’re sending these kids home, but we need to dive deeper into what is the root of the problem.’ We’re expected to send these kids home, and then they come back thinking, ‘Okay, I got suspended; I’m going to be able to deal with confrontation, deal with verbal altercations and deal with other issues during that time,’” said Crowder. “But I’m thinking to myself, ‘Do they really understand it? Are they really being taught that? Do they have the ability to develop these coping mechanisms on their own?’”

This thought process led to the creation of the Restorative Justice program. Throughout the year, students will attend classes to learn the best way to practice conflict resolution. Classes take place during lunch to prevent interference with classroom instruction.

“It’s an 11-week curriculum that I came up with, and the most beneficial lesson for me was actually explaining to students what restorative justice is about and how it affects the whole classroom. It has to deal with writing information in terms of being a victim. It has them have the perspective, because most of them have been victims and perpetrators, but it gives them the perspective of the victim and their vulnerability,” said Crowder.

Some questions and scenarios the students explore include: Repairing the Harm – which gives students the opportunity to propose what repairing harm looks like to them – Personal Responsibility – which lets students reflect on a time where they made a mistake or caused harm to someone else – and Owning Your Actions – in which students are tasked with listing three ways to take ownership of their actions during the incident.  

“The Restorative Justice class has taught me to make better decisions and not use my anger to control my actions,” said Elijah Foster, a member of the newest Restorative Justice program cohort.

Crowder believes that instilling the skills for conflict resolution and conversation can teach students how to avoid being involved in escalated situations.

Currently, the program is only available at IMSA North, but Crowder hopes that it eventually expands to IMSA’s central office and even other schools to reduce suspensions and keep students in the classroom.