Mending conflict, directly: Wilmington schools carrying out restorative conferences


Students can feel safe and heard

By Gary Huffenberger - ghuffenberger@wnewsj.com



Denver Place Elementary Principal Cortney Karshner-Rethmel gives a report to the board of education.

Denver Place Elementary Principal Cortney Karshner-Rethmel gives a report to the board of education.


Gary Huffenberger | News Journal

Pictured are members of a new leadership club at Wilmington Middle School. From left are students Cecilia Hackney, Autumn Byrd, Ava Wall, Margret Cook, Melody Dodson, Annika Nelson, and advisor Carly Griffith.


Gary Huffenberger | News Journal

WILMINGTON — Guided conversations in a safe setting are helping to repair conflicts that occur at Wilmington’s middle and high schools.

The Wilmington school board heard an update Monday on the district’s use of restorative practices with a presentation from three staffers who are trained restorative facilitators for grades 6 through 12, as well as from one of the 10 students who serve as peer facilitators.

The restorative team also includes restorative practices coordinator Justin Goodman who heads up the effort of building a positive school climate supporting students in grades 6-12, and which also deals with conflicts that arise.

New to the restorative practices programming this school year is a practice called restorative conferencing.

“Our end outcome that we’re trying to get to is resolving conflict, teaching our students and staff about empathizing, and being able to understand different perspectives when we don’t agree,” said Wilmington City Schools (WCS) Director of Pupil Services Natalie Harmeling.

Julie Taylor, a staffer who facilitates restorative conferences, said during the presentation that she’s had a few cases at the high school involving race.

“In the cases I facilitated, students were saying racially charged things to other students. What was said was intended as a ‘joke’ and not malicious in nature,” she said.

Restorative conferencing gives students an opportunity to see how their words affect others and helps them understand the broader effect, said Taylor.

And the students on the receiving end get an opportunity to share how these remarks affected them, she said.

“Incidents happen every day many times over, and without these guided conversations in a safe setting, our students would not understand the impact our words can have,” said Taylor.

A restorative conference is a structured meeting between people who have admitted they’ve done wrong or have been wronged, and any supporters they want to invite to help deal with the consequences of the wrongdoing or conflict. At the structured meeting those who are directly involved decide how best to repair the situation, an informational handout states.

Taylor said students feel safe and heard in these conferences and consequently they open up and share.

Another staffer said the conference process can help bring about a certain amount of closure, and a student who is a trained peer facilitator said he thinks the conferences can help solve simple issues before they turn into bigger ones.

In other WCS news, the middle school has a new leadership club formed by Carly Griffith who is with Talbert House. The club is about empowering youth and motivating them to make positive changes in the community, having their voices heard and making the changes that they want to see, Griffith said.

Club members took part recently in Make a Difference Day at Clinton County Youth Council, and they’ve got some things they want to do this year revolving around spreading kindness, said Griffith.

In building administrator reports, Denver Place Elementary Principal Cortney Karshner-Rethmel focused on some hands-on learning activities of the grades 3-through-5 students, and WHS Principal Samantha Woodruff said science students working in small groups were using white boards to do collaborative problem-solving.

Holmes Elementary Principal Marilee Tanner said with the adoption of the phonics-to-reading approach to literacy, she can see students being confident when they’re sounding out words and putting those sounds together. She anticipates they will become better readers as a result.

“The focus is more on sounds versus letters,” she explained.

Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.

Denver Place Elementary Principal Cortney Karshner-Rethmel gives a report to the board of education.
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2021/10/web1_principal_c.jpgDenver Place Elementary Principal Cortney Karshner-Rethmel gives a report to the board of education. Gary Huffenberger | News Journal

Pictured are members of a new leadership club at Wilmington Middle School. From left are students Cecilia Hackney, Autumn Byrd, Ava Wall, Margret Cook, Melody Dodson, Annika Nelson, and advisor Carly Griffith.
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2021/10/web1_griffith_c.jpgPictured are members of a new leadership club at Wilmington Middle School. From left are students Cecilia Hackney, Autumn Byrd, Ava Wall, Margret Cook, Melody Dodson, Annika Nelson, and advisor Carly Griffith. Gary Huffenberger | News Journal
Students can feel safe and heard

By Gary Huffenberger

ghuffenberger@wnewsj.com