A group of Watertown High School students took what they learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles of non-violence at the middle school and created a program to be used with all students at WHS.
The efforts have been recognized by district leaders, and education officials at the state level. Those interested in the effort can take part in upcoming events, including Community Introduction to Restorative Justice Circles on Wednesday, Dec. 11, in the WHS Lecture Hall, from 6-8 p.m.
The following piece was provided by those involved in the effort at Watertown High School:
Background and Context
The Kingian Principles of Nonviolent Conflict Reconciliation were the basis for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work in the Civil Rights Movement. They were first introduced to Watertown Middle School students by Ruth Henry, a Spanish teacher at WMS, and an accomplished Kingian trainer. The program that Ruth established helps students understand the nature of conflict and learn specific techniques to resolve conflict in a positive way. Since its inception more and more students have become trainers themselves, and have passed their skills and knowledge on to many others in the community, from fifth graders in all the elementary schools to parents, teachers, police officers, and members of the general public.
Ruth also introduced her students to Restorative Justice Circles, a process now used by police departments in many communities, including Watertown, to resolve grievances in a way satisfactory to all parties involved, thus avoiding further legal action.
Advocacy by Kingian Trainers at Watertown High School
In 2017 the Watertown Public Schools Equity Team identified a strategic objective of researching and choosing a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum for middle and high school students. In 2018 SEL committees at each of these two schools began this process. Phen Sarles, member of the WHS SEL committee and senior level Kingian student trainer, proposed that students could help design a curriculum that would include Kingian teachings, Circles, and peer-to-peer learning.
To Eva Henry, a junior at WHS, becoming a Kingian Trainer “has meant stepping up to the plate and expressing what I feel passionately about!” Fred Laboissiere added, “I use my voice to take a stand, meeting new people and doing something I don’t normally do”
When Eva, along with Claire and Catherine Fabian, and fellow students Shivani Sharma, Tino Themelis and Fred Laboissiere entered Watertown High School, they felt the school was missing an important opportunity by not teaching Kingian training and Restorative Justice techniques to high school students. They began to advocate for the inclusion of these impactful tools to help students and teachers address the challenges they face at the high school.
Holly Cachimuel, another Middle School teacher and Kingian trainer, sums up the value of this program by saying “Kingian training is a powerful tool to deinstitutionalize racism in schools.”
Updating the Ninth grade Advisory Curriculum with an SEL Focus
Annmarie Boudreau, Assistant Principal at WHS, responded to the students’ request. She invited Kingian trainers to work with Theodore (Teddy) DiSciscio, a Licensed School Adjustment and Mental Health Counselor to update and redesign the ninth grade Advisory Curriculum so that the lessons focused on topics that would be of most interest to their peers, and would include Kingian and Restorative Justice Circle practices.
In the summer of 2019 with the support of Ingrid Joy Wolfson, Chair of the Kingian Nonviolence Coordinating Committee, a small group of students including Claire, Eva, Catherine, Shivani, Fred and Tino in grades 9+10 championed and led a groundbreaking initiative, introducing new approaches to the Advisory curriculum at WHS. They presented their ideas to Annmarie and Teddy 9 th grade Advisory coordinator, both of whom were enthusiastic about the students’ recommendations.
The students set out to develop lesson plans using Kingian principles and Restorative Justice Circles that would be integrated into ninth grade Advisory sessions, which occur once every week throughout the school year and focus on transitioning to high school, academic expectations and social-emotional learning. The students worked diligently over the summer to create lesson plans on such topics as New Beginnings; Importance of Values; Current Events and Media Literacy; Social Media and Online Authenticity; and Managing Conflict. These lessons are now officially part of the ninth grade Advisory curriculum.
Even with a supportive administration, it takes courage for young people to approach adult authorities with new ideas. When asked how it was to share their thoughts with the high school administration, Claire said “At first it was hard, but we just said what we wanted to do and it was really powerful because we did a really important thing in our school.” Eva agreed that “at first it was hard to know how we would be heard, but after we started, things came together really well.” Fred added that “The school was very understanding.”
During fall orientation Ruth and four facilitators trained thirty 9 th grade peer leaders and 15 teachers in the Restorative Justice Circle protocol. Additional training will be offered to more students, peer leaders and teachers in the coming months. In the second semester of 2020 all WHS Kingian student trainers will get the opportunity to attend a day-long retreat to develop additional lessons for the ninth grade Advisory curriculum and expand to the 10th grade Advisory as well.
On Nov. 18 Ruth, Holly, Ingrid and Kingian trainers made a presentation to the Watertown School Committee about all current and future planned Kingian and Circle initiatives in the Watertown schools.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed by local and State officials. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Deanne Galdston recounts with pride how the Kingian training program has received praise from the Massachusetts Department of Education. She, along with teachers and student trainers made a presentation at a State-wide DESE conference on Nov. 8, 2019.
In Memorium with our Gratitude
A driving force behind our work is to honor the life and legacy of community activist Richard Marcus, a tireless champion of social justice, strong advocate for Restorative Justice, and founding member of the Watertown Public Schools Anti-Bias Coalition.
Watch this space for the latest developments on the Kingian/Circle project at the High School and upcoming programs sponsored by the Anti-Bias Coalition and other community groups including:
- Community Introduction to Restorative Justice Circles – Wednesday, December 11, WHS Lecture Hall, 6-8 p.m.
- Undocumented and Unafraid: Lessons from a Dreamer – An evening with Gaby Pacheco, student DACA activist – Thursday, January 16, WMS Auditorium, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
- Next Community Course in Kingian Nonviolence & Conflict Reconciliation – Two Saturdays: Feb. 1 & 8, WPD Community Room, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Registration will be available on WPS website by 12/1/19.
- Kingian Training program for teachers in middle, high school and elementary schools and police department in February, March and April 2020. Details to follow.