| Mar 12, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - March 12, 2009 MEND program finds a home at Sharbot Lake High SchoolBy Jeff Green

Shawn Quigley and Judy Tetlow of the Kingston-based Youth Diversion program, have been conducting an experiment at Sharbot Lake High School this winter.

It doesn’t involve any lab rats, however; it’s more of a social science experiment and it involves all the staff and students at the school, as well as members of the surrounding community.

Quigley and Tetlow have been working with the Limestone School Board for the past three years on something called the MEND program. “We’re really big on acronyms,” said Quigley, and “MEND stands for Mediating by Empowering with Nurturing Dialogue.”

The goal of MEND in the schools is to “increase the ability of schools to manage conflict using in-school restorative principles and to link youth to services such as mental health, addictions counselling, or recreational programming” (Guideline for restorative practices for the Limestone District School Board). It is a partnership between Youth Diversion and the board and over the past three years selected students and staff at two high schools and two public schools in Kingston and Napanee have participated in pilot MEND projects.

While the program has had an impact, “We felt that something was missing. We wondered if it was possible to engage an entire school, including all students and staff in a single MEND project, so it would truly be a restorative school,” said Quigley.

One of the reasons that Sharbot Lake High School was chosen for the project was its reputation as a school that considers all of its students and staff to be members of an extended school family. “We are family” has been the unofficial school motto for several years.

As well, SLHS Principal Janet Sanderson has taken an interest in some of the same concepts that MEND is all about. “The idea of dialogue, of respect, is something we have been working on at the school, particularly in work we’ve done over bullying, and when Superintendent Beth Woodley put Shawn and Judy in touch with us, it seemed like this would be a good fit,” said Sanderson.

The concepts behind MEND are similar to restorative processes that have become familiar as an alternative to criminal court hearings; alternate dispute resolution, healing circles, etc. “The community programs we develop are designed to keep youth from offending in the first place,” said Quigley.

In the high school setting, disputes don’t often end up in the courts, but there are consequences and sanctions within the school, including suspensions and expulsion, in some cases

“For me, it’s all about conversations. Behaviours and issues that arise are opportunities for learning,” said Janet Sanderson.

Early this year, about 40 grade 10 students joined with teachers and staff in undergoing MEND training sessions. This, in itself was an innovation.

“We’ve never trained students and staff at the same time. It created a different kind of relation between them,” said Shawn Quigley.

MEND training includes role playing and a discussion about restorative justice, among other activities. The idea is that anyone who undergoes the training can act as a facilitator for MEND circles in order to address conflicts. The circles deal with some basic questions: Has someone been harmed? Is there a need to repair the harm? Have those who have caused the harm admitted responsibility? Would no further harm result from a circle? Do those who have been harmed want this process?

“We all want our schools to be places where students feel accepted, where people are treated with respect. The MEND program fits in with the kinds of goals we already have at SLHS,” said Sanderson, “whether it is a matter of the language students use or other elements of respect.”

Shawn Quigley said that in other jurisdictions, such as New Zealand and Great Britain, where restorative justice has been in the schools for many years, there aren’t even codes of conduct in place anymore.

That is not the case at SLHS though, nor will it be any time soon. “Where it comes to health and safety, there are rules that we enforce without question. But in terms of how we treat each other on a day-to-day basis, in terms of dealing with conflicts before they get out of hand, that’s where MEND comes in,” said Sanderson.

For the rest of this school year, the MEND project will be worked on at SLHS, with Tetlow and Quigley acting as resource people. After that, it is hoped that the program will become part of the culture of the school, that it will be part and parcel of Sharbot Lake Panther Pride. 

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