Above, Strathern Street Elementary School is using restorative justice practices to build relationships – not only among classmates, but between parents and the rest of the school community.

Fifth-grader Darlene Celis shares her thoughts on peace during a restorative justice circle at Strathern Street Elementary School.

In his first year as principal of Strathern Street Elementary School, John Dargahi has benefited from a new approach to improving communication and strengthening relationships among administrators, teachers and parents.

Rather than the “Coffee with the Principal”-type event that he held regularly when he was principal at Stonehurst Elementary, Dargahi is using a restorative justice (RJ) program to collaborate with parents at Strathern.

“It a great way to get better acquainted with the school community,” Dargahi said. “Strathern has a wonderfully supportive and diverse community, and RJ is a great way to hear everyone’s thoughts on how I can help move the school forward. It is important to me to be able to listen to everyone.”

Meeting weekly in restorative justice circles – similar to those in which their own kids participate – parents at the North Hollywood campus discuss their experiences and values, their goals for their children, and strategies for coping with challenges.

“I love the RJ circle,” said parent Sinteall Hernandez. “We get to listen with our heart, and respect each other’s point of view. As we share our stories, we become conscience of each other’s feelings and in this busy world that is important. I apply what I learn in circle at home.”

The program was initiated by Assistant Principal Edward Gorton, who previously was the RJ teacher-advisor for Local District Northeast. He leads the parent circle, as well as RJ circles for fifth-grade students and a positive behavior support program for second- through fifth-grade boys.

Meeting weekly with Gorton during their lunch hour, the boys review their attendance, homework completion and any behavioral challenges from the previous week, and they set goals for the future.

“We have seen our RJ students do much better in completing their homework assignments, improving their attendance in school and decreasing behavior issues,” Gorton said.

Parent Carlos Salazar credits Gorton’s program for improvements in his son’s attitude and behavior.

“I have noticed a huge increase in my son’s confidence since joining Mr. Gorton’s positive behavior club,” Salazar said. “He feels safer expressing his emotions and knows that he has support from teachers on campus.”

Since introducing the RJ program for adults, activity has also increased at the Parent Center, Dargahi said. Parents also say they feel more welcome at Strathern.

“Being in circle strengthens the bond among the parents,” said mom Dina Alay. “You get to learn about other’s experiences and enjoy their company.”