African American Legacy provided grant funds to the Academy of Scholastic Achievement (ASA), an alternative high school with a social and economic justice theme that helps students aged 16 to 21 earn the academic credits needed for a Chicago Public Schools diploma. These students have been unable to matriculate at traditional high schools because of serious challenges, such as having exposure to violence, having to meet conditions of the juvenile justice system, or being teen parents. ASA has an enrollment of about 240 students who mostly live in Chicago’s Austin, West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park communities. Its Voice Not Violence project was Voices for Peace.

Learning Peace, Trusting Circles, Changing Ways

 

The Academy of Scholastic Achievement gives students options to violence and conflict

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It was Friday and the student was agitated. Sitting in a circle of chairs with his peers, he revealed that he wanted to retaliate against a rival gang member who had wronged him. He brought his plans to the discussion group at the Academy of Scholastic Achievement (ASA) to clear his mind…or perhaps to change it. Either way, he sat in what was generally an ordinary classroom and saw it as a safe and sacred place to share his anger, fears and dangerous weekend plans. This was a Peace Circle, led by students and supported by adult mentors. 

During Peace Circles, students pass around an item that serves as the talking piece: The person who holds the talking piece holds the floor. Students mostly listen as each person speaks; however, at times they struggle with having the patience to listen thoughtfully, eager to speak their minds on any given topic. Learning trust, patience and respect for others is important in a Peace Circle.

That Friday, the agitated student, whose day began with violent plans, was affected by what he heard in the Peace Circle. Monday, when the student returned to school, he reported that he had avoided the weekend retaliation.

AAL’s grant to Voices for Peace helped provide training to ASA counselors in restorative justice practices, empowering them with skills needed to run Peace Circles and to support students’ thinking differently.

“Peace Circles have allowed us to reach the kids on a level that is not just staff-to-student. It’s more like a family forum,” says Reginald Breashears, one of the ASA mentors who received training.  “Peace Circles allow us to hear their issues, and they get to hear our points of view, and it’s all without judgement.  Later, when I’m counseling a student individually, I’m able to repeat the things heard in the Peace Circle, and build on that camaraderie and trust.”  Breashears says that students have curbed violent impulses as a result of participating in the Peace Circles, improving behavior in school, at home and in their communities.

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ASA’s goal is to imbue a sense of social justice and peacefulness within its students so they are better equipped to manage the intense challenges in their lives.  “These kids are coping with things that I don’t think I could handle as well as they do,” says Breashears.  “And in fact, who knows if they are handling it well, because we see struggles every day with our students.” 

Photo courtesy of Bruce Powell for ASA

Here’s what ASA accomplished with support from African American Legacy

4 Key Voices FOR Peace Achievements

Introduced
peer-led
peace circles

With support from ASA mentors and counselors, students developed the topics for, and led the flow of, these intimate conversations with each other. Designed to teach students listening, communication and conflict resolution skills, peace circles were held weekly to insulate students from violence.

Increased
student
engagement

By the end of the grant period, ASA students who participated in the Voices for Peace project had a school attendance rate of more than 80%, and the year-over-year retention rate for participants was 93%.

Produced
documentary
videos

Students produced three documentaries, including “Beauty and Brains,” which explored their personal experiences with the concept of beauty. The documentary also provided a forum for discussing stereotypes and prejudices, which tied into research topics from their social justice classes. The documentary tied for first place in the Chicago Youth Community Film Festival in 2014. Students also created “Hopes and Fears,” a video diary series on the impact violence has on their lives.

Provided
summer jobs
for youth

Seventeen students worked in the ASA school garden during the third year of the grant.

Leveraged
resources

With technical assistance from African American Legacy, ASA was able to leverage its AAL award to receive additional grants totaling $65,000 (from Youth Connection Charter Schools and Advocate Bethany Community Health Fund).

empowering with skills needed to run Peace Circles and to support students’ thinking differently. 

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© Copyright 2016 African American Legacy. Website design, animation and content by Art On The Loose, Inc. Video production by Epilog Media Design Group. Original photography by Lauren Harris, Tommy Inglis and Jason Jones. Additional photos and footage courtesy of Bruce Powell, Jean-Marc Giboux and the African American Legacy grantees.

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