Simle Middle School Practices Restorative Justice Against Bullying

Bismarck - Simle Middle School is proactive when it comes to kids and bullying.
 
For more than seven years Simle Middle School has been practicing restorative justice.
 
They're partnered with United Way and Lutheran Social Services.
 
"What we want to do is provide something that will help them not just in the short-term but also in the long-term," Russ Riehl, Simle Middle School principal says.
 
The program is an intervention for students with behavior, conflict, and mental health problems.
 
In the past, it would take weeks to give consequences and punishments to those who engaged in bullying,
 
Riehl says it simply took too long.
 
"We want them to have an option, we want to make sure we react immediately and we want to make sure that it is appropriate for what students are going through," Riehl says.
 
Through their work with restorative justice, Simle Middle School has seen the number of disciplinary actions for students go down by 75 percent.
 
That has allowed students to get out of the principal's office and back to the classroom.
 
Michelle Dire has spent the last 18 years working as a restorative justice facilitator.
 
She says she's a safe place to talk about the issues they are dealing with.
 
"It gives the person who harmed the opportunity to learn some valuable problem-solving skills, to gain some empathy. They don't know how what they did impacts other people because I think if they knew, they probably wouldn't do it," Michelle Dire, restorative justice facilitator says.
 
She says giving kids a voice makes all the difference.
 
She's seen bullies become protectors.
 
"As it turned out, after about the fourth time, I was ready to give up hope. [The student] turned into an advocate for this young man," Dire says. "Things just completely turned around."
 
When it comes to kids changing for the better, Dire says it isn't up to her.
 
"They do the work, I just facilitate it," Dire says.
 
The juvenile court director in Bismarck says they have seen a significant decrease in students coming through the court system from Simle since they started their restorative justice program.

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