Kids First's Youth Peace Project (YPP) provides services at McKinley Middle School and its three elementary feeder schools (Erskine, Grant Wood, and Johnson) in the Cedar Rapids Community School District. YPP uses restorative practices to resolve conflict that arises between students or between students and staff.
In recent years, the Cedar Rapids community has seen a surge in violence among youth, with sometimes lethal results. Conflicts that occur in school have spilled over and led to greater violence in the community-at-large. Further, these in-school conflicts have led to disciplinary referrals, suspensions and expulsions. When students are suspended, the underlying conflict often remains and resurfaces when they return to school. And expelled or suspended students are at-risk to drop out of school, engage in violence, and commit crimes (in what is termed the school-to-prison pipeline). In fact, a recent study shows that students who receive out-of-school suspensions or expulsions are nearly three times as likely to enter the juvenile justice system.
The Solution: Restorative Justice
Restorative justice focuses on restoring relationships when harm has occurred. All interested parties are invited to a dialogue together in conferences or circles. Each person tells their own story—what happened and how that has affected them. These narratives can lead to emotional responses, mutual understanding and empathy, and even healing. The participants then identify a resolution that addresses the harm and creates a path forward. This cooperative process increases people’s ability to see each other as persons, to respect each other, to identify with the experiences of the other, and to arrive at an agreement—which are the building blocks of reconciliation.
YPP promotes civility by encouraging respectful interactions in conferences or circles.
Why Kids First?
Kids First’s mission is to give children a voice in divorce, custody, and other conflicts. Kids engaged in conflict often come from split families where conflict-resolution has not been modeled well. At the center of Kids First’s work is a focus on conflict-resolution and changing patterns of behavior to create more positive relationships for kids.
Kids First excels in understanding situations from kids’ perspectives and in mediating disputes. The Kids First approach distinguishes itself by considering problems first from the child’s point of view. The Kids First team also has extensive training and more than a decade’s experience meeting with hostile parties and helping them find common ground. Combining these strengths positions Kids First singularly to offer restorative justice for kids in the school setting.
YPP works in conjunction with the individual schools' leadership and teaching staff. Kids First offers restorative circles to build relationships with kids, foster community, and increase students’ social-emotional skills. When conflicts arise, those affected are referred to a Kids First facilitator. The facilitator leads circles with affected parties, which may include students and/or staff. This process results in amicable agreements and reduced conflict. Restorative justice interrupts youth cycles of violence.
Learn More About Our Project
The Youth Peace Project was featured by the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation at the annual Celebration of Community event November 14, 2018 at the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids. Learn more about our project in this short video shown at the event, highlighting Good People, Good Ideas.
We Need Your Help
Kids First seeks investors who share the concern about youthviolence and want to partner with Kids First to take preventative action. Like Kids First’s other programs, this project is innovative and follows best practices successfully implemented around the country. This project has the power to transform a school’s culture and can be replicated with broad application to benefit an entire community.