For years I have been intrigued by the concept of restorative justice. My first encounter with this concept came from the movie Dead Man Walking, in which a convicted murderer on death row (Sean Penn) approaches his final days and a nun (Susan Sarandon) leads him to recognize the brutality in his actions and the need to confess his wrongdoings and share his regret with the victims’ families for the loss that he caused.
I vividly remember watching this as a young adult, and sensing the power that the families of the victims had to forgive this man. The thing that struck me most was the freedom and peace felt by the victims who were open to the possibility of reconciliation, juxtaposed with the anguish and torment of the victims who sought revenge.
Years (and many other stories of restoration) later, I now find myself in a position of leadership of a school whose vision seeks to “equip children for Christlike service in community.” Perhaps you can see the endless opportunity for restorative practices when a vision statement such as this one is right before your eyes each and every day. At the beginning of the 2008–09 school year, our staff set out to put restoration into practice.
We began working collaboratively on developing school-wide “Restorative Living Projects.” RLP’s are monthly service projects in which students serve in the community. Community in this case is used in the broad sense as it does not simply refer to the school community or our community of Powell River, but it extends to the province of British Columbia, our entire nation, and the world. While at first glance these projects might appear like any other service project a school might participate in, our intentional approach to the teaching process is what sets the RLP’s apart. Furthermore, we know that God’s restorative purpose begins with the restorative work that he does in each and every one of us.
Through weekly chapels, daily devotional activities, and various other learning times, we strive to make each month’s RLP personal for every student. We call this component our pre–service learning. A project concludes with a post-service-learning response in which students share personal experiences through their writing, art, or other creative projects that are often displayed on our Restorative Living bulletin board.
One of the most interesting things we have found since we began the RLP’s is that many activities that were once routine parts of our yearly timetable have now become so much more meaningful to students, teachers, and members of the various communities with which we come into contact.