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Re-engaging Disconnected Youth

Transformative Learning through Restorative and Social Justice Education – Revised Edition


Amy Vatne Bintliff

As many young adults continue to disengage with learning each day, teachers and administrators struggle to find ways to re-engage secondary students with their schooling and communities. Re-engaging Disconnected Youth profiles a program that succeeds in doing so, one that can serve as a model for others. In a Midwestern alternative school, three teachers built a curriculum around hands-on learning, restorative justice Talking Circles, and multicultural education, in the hopes that it would re-engage and inspire youth. Drawing on Adult Transformative Learning Theory, the book is an in-depth, qualitative study of the ways the program transformed adult and youth perceptions of trust, connections, schooling and human rights. It breaks down stereotypes about youth labeled «at-risk» and provides evidence that it is never too late to become passionate about learning. This new revised edition includes updated research and a chapter exploring the impact of the program on middle school youth.
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Chapter 3. Restoring Community: The Impact of Restorative Justice Circles on Student Feelings of Connectedness


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The Impact of Restorative Justice Circles on Student Feelings of Connectedness

There is much evidence that adolescents and youth who are disconnected from mainstream institutions and opportunities are likely to suffer significant, often long-term, negative effects as they enter adulthood. Many of these youth may reconnect to education and/or identify ways they can be productive and creative if given the opportunity to do so through alternative education strategies and settings. (Zwieg, 2003, p. 10)

School Connectedness

In addition to concerns about student engagement and motivation, something is lacking in our current educational system, especially when focusing on students who struggle through high school. As students grow older, they feel less attached to school (McNeely, Nonnemaker, & Blum, 2002, p. 146). By high school as many as 40–60% of students become chronically disengaged (Klem & Connell, 2004, p. 262). And for those students who fail to “fit in” to traditional education systems, there is an even greater disconnect; at-risk students feel even less of a sense of belonging in conventional classrooms (Beck & Malley, 1998). This is a major concern because connectedness has been linked to higher levels of engagement, and lower levels of stress, violence, suicide attempts, drug use (Blum & Libbey, 2004, p. 231). Because of ← 45 | 46 →these concerns, a strategy that re-engaged our alternative students was using restorative justice Talking Circles to rebuild connectedness.

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