Conflict and resolution meet at a crossroads over and over again, probably more than once a day. Whether conflict wins or resolution does depends on our attitudes and beliefs.
At St. Mary Catholic School in Mt. Vernon they began to practice Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline (VBRD) three years ago, and making the principles of the program part of school life has brought changes beyond anyone’s imagining.
Ranzie Callahan, sixth-grade teacher, said she began teaching at St. Mary’s two years before the program began. Now, “I see a complete difference in the climate of the school, Callahan said. “Students use different language in conversation; they’re quick to notice virtue.”
The program was developed by Lynne Lang, director of school climate for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Described on the website as more of a movement than a program, it is “a way of life that leads you and those around you to a better, kinder way of living. The results can significantly improve school culture, relationships at home, and increase faith practices.”
Most young people who perpetrate problems in schools, like bullying, have been singled out for some form of discipline, perhaps staying in at recess or being detained after school.
With VBRD, students are encouraged to adopt one of the virtues listed by St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians 3:12 to practice. They appear on the back of the students’ T-shirts.
Students become familiar and comfortable with language that speaks of virtues, finding ways to uplift each other. The circle gives everyone the opportunity to listen and to share — good life skills to learn for any situation, both in and out of the classroom.
It “is the center of the program,” teacher Mary Trentman said.
Trentman learned of the program, attended a training four years ago and brought it back to St. Mary. Later, other faculty attended and then the entire school began to use it.
Recently, faculty from St. Mary in Mt. Carmel went to Mt. Vernon to see how it worked, and they plan to attend the summer training institute in June, Trentman said.
Trentman said the visitors from Mt. Carmel said St. Mary students “have a maturity most adults don’t have. It’s knowledge and faith that inform how we interact with one another.”
While the prayer circles are used for communication and discussion, they can also be used to sort out conflict and restore peace.
Not only has behavior changed at St. Mary but also the language students use to speak to one another and the adults in their lives. Trentman said some families have begun using some of the skills young people have learned at school in conflicts that arise at home. The benefits of using VBRD are numerous, including better communication at school and at sporting events.
“They’re trying to practice their virtue,” Trentman said. “They’re trying to become better people.” Eighth-graders have become conversant with virtue-based language and use it easily in their conversations. They said they remember what school was like before VBRD was introduced, and the program has made a difference in the atmosphere at the school and in their lives as well.
Callahan described the program as “incredible.”
For more information, please go to virtuebase.org or call St. Mary at 618-242-5353.