Improving Students’ Lives Through Communication and Restorative Justice

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on


Tommy, a 14-year-old high school student in Oakland, California, was in the hallway cursing out his teacher at the top of his lungs. The normal reaction to Tommy’s behavior would have been to suspend him, which only adds to the problem. Instead, a restorative justice circle was organized, which brings together— people who have harmed and people who have been harmed—in a face-to-face encounter where everyone listens and speaks with respect and from the heart, no matter their differences, to explore what happened.

If Tommy was suspended he would have been three times more likely to drop out by 10th grade than students who had never been suspended. Worse, had Tommy dropped out, his chances of being incarcerated later in life would have tripled. Seventy-five percent of the nation’s inmates are high school dropouts. Instead with the justice circle and follow-ups, Tommy’s family life, grades, and behavior have improved.

In Oakland, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) is successfully influencing the local school district to make this the standard approach to cases like Tommy’s. Young high school students in Oakland with failing grades and multiple incarcerations who were not expected to graduate not only graduate but achieve 3.0+ GPAs. Some have become class valedictorians, and some who have been long-time enemies become friends after sitting in a peacemaking circle.


Fania Davis, “Discipline With Dignity: Oakland Classrooms Try Healing Instead of Punishment,” YES! Magazine, February 19, 2014,

Student Researcher: Slava Eltchev (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)