PATERSON, NJ – Paterson Public Schools students serving out of school suspension, experiencing a crisis, or simply needing a break from school day pressures have a new place to turn with the opening of Eastside High School’s new “Peace Center.”
Thanking Eastside High School’s leadership for being committed to restorative justice, and working to launch the new center, Superintendent Eileen Shafer said that “suspended students who are forbidden from coming to school and left to sit at home have no way to improve themselves. They can’t learn. They can’t develop coping to avoid the behaviors that get them suspended in the first place.”
The Peace Center, Shafer added, “gives suspended students, or any students needing help, a place to go where learning can continue – especially students learning about themselves.”
Seen as an alternative to harsher, and once more common, punishment for disciplinary infractions, such as fighting, restorative justice is a practice that encourages students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups.
Among the local organizations to support the effort was the Paterson Education Fund that sponsored a group of Paterson Public Schools educators to receive restorative justice training last December. “This is what is needed in the district. Our kids suffer enough. They have enough negativity around them,” Linda Reid of PEF said on Friday. “It’s time for something positive to be put in place for them.”
“Here they have people who can support them, talk to them about their problems and their issues and help them to work it out,” Reid continued.
Located in a temporary classroom unit on the Eastside Campus, the space was refurbished with the help of Youth Consultation Services (YCS), a nonprofit organization that provides social services for EHS students. The YCS team furnished the center with comfortable sofas, warm lighting, an aromatic diffuser, a water sculpture, hand painted murals and pillows with comforting messages.
“We look forward to utilizing the space for individual and group counseling sessions when it is available,” said YCS Director Edna Angelos. “It is the perfect environment to help a child de-stress.”
A 1987 graduate of EHS, sitting councilwoman-at-large, and parent, Dr. Lilisa Mimms said she is also excited to see restorative justice practices being implemented as a tool to help ensure the success of students. “If we don’t create atmospheres of peace we’ll end up in pieces,” she said, adding that she is hopeful that while it’s the first peace center in the District it won’t be the last.
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