For twenty minutes every Monday through Thursday, students at PACE participate in Restore 101, a homeroom class focused on restorative practices.
Students push their desks together or sit in a circle on the floor.
Symone Rainey – the inclusion support teacher on campus known for her big laugh and warm smile – sets the community norms for the day’s circle.
“We’re going to have our talking piece, Mr. Duck, here,” Rainey says, displaying a small rubber duck wearing sunglasses. “We’re going to do a check-in circle, so from one to five — one being I’m not having the best day, and five, — I’m ready to take on the world. I want to hear what number you are.”
Rainey goes first. “I am a five,” she says, kicking off the activity with gusto. “I am ready to take on the world.”
As the duck gets passed around the circle, each student grasps it and indicates their mental and emotional state on the numbered scale. Then they unpack why they feel that way.
“I’m a five,” says one student. “I don’t have anything to complain about.”
Another shares, “I’m a five because me and my sister are going to look at apartments this weekend, so I’m moving out.” She receives cheers of encouragement from the group. For this student who recently turned 18, moving out means newfound freedom and independence.
The circle represents a safe space where students feel seen and heard, and where they can reach out for support from peers and adults alike. As the facilitator, the teacher notes the status of each student and what he or she needs to be successful that day – words of encouragement, space to work alone, a phone call home, or one-on-one time to talk and work through something with the student support counselor. Typically, the circle continues another two rounds, with topics ranging from pop culture to philosophical musings to personal reflections.
“Setting our kids up in the morning to have a great day makes a world of difference,” Kimberly Darden, the principal at the PACE Center, explains. Darden is in her fourth year of principalship at PACE and attended the Raise Your Hand Texas Harvard Leadership Program in the summer of 2019. She comes from a family of educators and leads by the philosophy that there is worth in all people.
“It allows them to know, number one, every day is not going to be a great day,” she says. “It’s not going to be number five every day, and that’s okay. I can start at a two and I can work my way toward a five. That’s real life. That’s us preparing kids to be the best versions of themselves right now so that they can master that and function well in their adult lives.”
Check-in circles extend beyond the students. Darden explains how she uses the technique with her staff. “In the mornings, three times per week, I meet with my admin team. The very first thing we do is, ‘Guys, one to five, how are we doing this morning?’ What that allows us to do as adults, is to take a moment, breathe in, slow it down and sometimes we even reach out to one another around that table. It’s not uncommon for us to engage in prayer for one another, to provide an encouraging word.”
Darden believes these practices are for everyone. “Trauma sensitivity is not just for the kid who has already been diagnosed as bipolar or social anxiety or any of those things. Trauma sensitivity connects to all people, so it’s not just our kids, it’s every adult in this building, it’s every adult who enters this building, it’s every kid, it’s every person every day.”
Three years prior, the PACE Center began a journey to implement restorative practices and trauma-informed teaching in the classroom to address an increasing number of mental health disorders diagnosed in students – ADHD, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, as well as substance abuse.