After the return to in-person learning, Berkeley High School (BHS) administrators are working to address increased violence on campus, believed to be due, in part, to the stress of the pandemic.
BHS and Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) make use of systems that promote connection and repairing harm in order to combat violence in school.
“Violence … [is] a complex problem, and we’re going to need to think about it in a complex way,” said BHS principal Juan Raygoza.
Raygoza said he understands the process of dealing with on-campus violence as one of fostering positive relationships.
“We need to make sure that we are consistent and fair in our discipline of students because it’s important to hold students accountable for their actions,” he said. “As administrators [and] as educators, we’re working with young people who really need us to be by their side on their best days and on their worst days.”
This school year, BHS’s violence management programs have been impacted by the staffing issues that have hit the rest of the school. Raygoza said positions such as a second Restorative Justice counselor and second On-Campus Intervention (OCI) manager are vacant, leaving those employed in the departments scrambling to pick up the slack. He said the increase in fire alarms and on-campus fighting have been partially due to these staffing issues.
Restorative Justice Coordinator Stacy Shoals also cited the increase in substitutes as a cause for misbehavior. Without a second person holding her job, Shoals can’t work with students as directly as she has in recent years. In addition, she said, “we didn’t [anticipate] there would be so much pent-up aggression [following the pandemic].”
BHS has been using restorative justice in order to reduce violence. Raygoza said the practice has the power to strengthen bonds.
“Restorative justice doesn’t work all the time, it’s not always appropriate, but when it is, it can truly be an amazing experience,” he said. “Restorative justice … humanizes students and staff members. It’s important for us to see each other as human beings, and to really see that there’s potential and growth.”
Raygoza said that when restorative justice is successful, it leaves students and their families feeling supported and safe. He said restorative justice is most useful and successful when both parties are open to accountability and discussion.
Shoals also said restorative justice can lead to conflict resolution.
“It’s a process that can be very effective if both parties are willing to let it go,” she said. “It is one of our biggest strategies [for dealing with harm.]”
BHS’s intervention programs also emphasize family involvement.
“When we most effectively address violence on campus is when we recognize that there’s a need to not just bring students in and understand what is happening, but when we bring in [their family members] in a genuine and authentic way,” Raygoza said.
He said he wants the parents of students to understand what their child has done and the consequences of that act, but also to know that “there’s a way forward, and they can come to campus and feel safe.”
For Shoals, a strength of BHS’s socio-emotional programs is the community they build. She sees a subtle, powerful shift from “that’s the boy from my English class” to “that’s Jerry, he and I both like to watch [the same things.]” These small, micro-relationships can give students a way to understand each other and a baseline of respect in a school of so many people. She said this is referred to as Type 1 Restorative Justice.
“A lot of teachers at BHS, without having any training, [give] due diligence [to the ideals of restorative justice],” she said.
Raygoza also said BHS attempts to cultivate a culture of respect and kindness that is intrinsic to the whole school, and works to apply these types of practices to the difficult transition from middle to high school.
“When we welcome ninth graders to campus, it’s done in a careful way where our counselors and intervention leaders have worked with the middle schools to identify students that would benefit from interventions,” he said. “We’re trying to plug students who have struggled in middle school into intervention programs.”
For BHS, responding to situations of violence is a complex, many-step, multi-tool process. It is a process which is constantly evolving and being reshaped.
“We still have a lot of work to do in this area … but we’re working to be proactive,” Raygoza said. “Punitive, zero-tolerance policies don’t always work … we know that our students need us to be there for them every day.”