By Xue Lin Wang
“I want to establish a system and support with the staff and team where they can be self-efficient,” says Amani Coker-Warren, “to the point where I am out of a job.” Parents do not have a handbook for schools and Coker-Warren believes her role as a Community School Coordinator is to support parents and connect teachers and staff to the community. Coordinators are the connectors and the ones who assess the needs of the staff, students, and families and makes it happen. However, Coker-Warren never dreamt about being a Community School Coordinator. She originally entered the education field as a teacher with a social work background. After realizing she was not prepared to support the whole child academically, she came across the Community School Coordinator position and never looked back.
This year marks Coker-Warren’s 4th year as a Community School Coordinator at Eutaw-Marshbum Elementary School. On a regular basis, Coker-Warren coordinates activities for over 250 students, from pre-kindergarten to 5th grade, and their families. Her experience as a coordinator has been successful as her coworkers are supportive of her role and work she does.
One of the most successful activities Coker-Warren has coordinated are weekly sessions of restorative practice. Popularly used in the criminal justice field, restorative practice is an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen and repair relationships between individuals and communities. The purpose of the practice is to build healthy communities, increase social capital, decrease antisocial behaviors, repair harm, and restore relationships. This practice takes a restorative rather than punitive approach to discipline by encouraging students to be accountable for their actions and find ways to “make things right” with those they have harmed.
Coker-Warren serves as the lead for the practice and supports and leads training for teachers, support staff, and volunteers. By implementing restorative practice throughout the school, students could exercise their voice and ownership in the classroom. Once a week for 10 minutes, students “drop everything and restore” and reflect upon anything their heart desires including their feelings, homework assignments, or activities. By giving students the opportunity and outlet to discuss their feelings, behavioral issues and suspensions at Eutaw-Marshbum has drastically decreased.
And the demand for more time to be allocated towards restorative practice has been huge. This past school year, a 4th grade class experienced the loss of a teacher due to medical leave. As a result, the 4th grade class joined another class, and mental health partners conducted restorative practices three times a week for the students. At the end of the school year, the students reflected that the time gave them the ability to express their feeling in a safe space.
As a veteran in the field of education both as a teacher and Community School Coordinator, Coker-Warren advises new Coordinators to pace yourself and do not coordinate alone. Make friends with your coworkers and learn about the issues existing in the school and community. Children do want to be at school, however, there are other issues such as family or emotional matters that could be holding them back. By being present and supporting the child as a whole, you also support the child’s educators and families, and in result, evolves into strong relationships and positive accomplishments to come.