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Students at Ridgecrest Academy make connections with Peace Circles

Peace Circle at Ridgecrest Academy

The five class members, along with their teacher, aide and two visitors, gathered in a circle. The facilitator introduced the topic up for discussion — honesty. “What would you decide to do if you found a lost wallet, and how would you make that decision?” she asked the group. As the special talking piece (this day, a pink paper bunny) was passed from person to person, each speaker was painfully truthful about what they would do. “I would try to find out who it belonged to”; “I would take the money and then turn everything else in to lost and found”; “I would want to take the money, but I wouldn’t do it.” As they moved on to other questions during the half-hour session, their insights on honesty and white lies were in turn, thoughtful or funny, very kind or very logical.
This was a Peace Circle at BOCES 2 Ridgecrest Academy. Peace Circles facilitate communication and problem solving. They help build relationships and strengthen community. At Ridgecrest, teacher Pam Modzel’s eighth-graders were safely exploring emotions and values, and making connections with what the others shared. The rules were simple: only speak when you hold the talking piece, tell the truth, listen respectfully and make no judgments.

Peace Circles have been part of the Ridgecrest Academy experience for two of the eighth-grade classes and one grades 5-6 classroom since November 2016. Special Education Supervisor Robert Nells hopes to expand the system to all classes as more teachers become familiar with the process.

“Peace Circles provide a framework for how we can discuss things,” he said. “They are a safe place to talk about feelings or potentially difficult issues. As students become more comfortable, they participate more. They are planning and facilitating the Circles themselves now. It’s exciting to see them advocating for themselves. They are making Ridgecrest a stronger, more caring learning community.”

Participating in a Peace Circle

Participating in a Peace Circle