Madison.com: On a recent Friday morning at Madison’s O’Keeffe Middle School, nine students gathered in a circle to reflect on their experience. Some shared their happiest memories during the three years while others described challenges they faced. They also shared what their goals for high school were and where they see themselves in ten years.
“I enjoyed the fun field trips we had, it brought everyone together and made us closer,” one student said.
“In ten years I see myself at the UW-Madison or University of California in Berkeley,” said another.
The activity is called a restorative circle, an aspect of restorative justice programs. Actual restorative justice programs are closed to reporters, so O’Keeffe set up a mock circle to illustrate how they work. Students’ names were withheld to protect privacy.
Restorative justice is a popular practice nationally, if not globally, to resolve conflicts and repair harm caused by criminal behavior or wrongdoing. The practice has been implemented in jails, prisons and schools, including the Madison Metropolitan School District.
Madison Magazine: As a freshman at East High School, Ivan Lozada found the traditional learning environment challenging. He simply couldn’t concentrate. Plus, he says “certain classes catered to certain kids,” which he felt did not include him. His parents noticed a change in him too—something he describes as “going into a dark place.” Yet one teacher recognized Lozada’s work ethic and recommended him for the Alternative Education Resource Options program through the district’s Innovative and Alternative Education program. He checked it out and enrolled, and eventually landed an office job at Goodman Community Center, one of Innovative and Alternative Education’s fifty program partners.
Although that job wasn’t the right fit for him, Lozada returned to East High School and eventually found something that suited his interests through the school’s Work and Learn program. As a junior, he landed an apprenticeship with Smart Motors, another IAE partner. He graduated this January and is attending Madison College’s auto technician program. Last semester he went to school daily, worked every day for credit, attended night school once a week and helped out at the family’s bakery. While traditional schooling was not his thing, hard work was.
Work and Learn is one of six core programs offered through IAE at eight different sites throughout Madison. The IAE has 364 students across all programs, but historically that number grows in the second semester and can hit five hundred.
As the only Latino high school principal in the Madison Metropolitan School District, East High Principal Michael Hernandez takes lessening the racial achievement gap that has plagued Madison schools very seriously.
“We still need to build trust and we still need to repair relationships,” Hernandez told Madison365. “I had lunch with a group of students today, and we were talking about ways we can develop student leadership in our building. We need to find ways to engage all of our parents and get people in the door. Because of some of the poor experiences they’ve had in the past, they just don’t want to come to school – not for the lack of love or support for their child.”
Hernandez really gets the issues that MMSD is facing right now and has been working for years to support students, bridge gaps and to be a pioneer in education. Earlier this week, Centro Hispano acknowledged his work by announcing that he was the 2015 recipient of the Roberto G. Sánchez Award which honors an individual, group or organization that has demonstrated leadership in advancing educational and career opportunities for Latinos.