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Settling Conflict by Settling Minds with Connective Art

Student-made Mandala Supports Restorative Justice


With colorful petals radiating from a bright orange center, the mandala Circle of Art rug represents the universe and all its connectivity.

For members of the high school’s National Art Honor Society, it’s also a way of connecting with a program right in their school that helps reduce conflict and unite people.

NAHS members and juniors Sinai Salvador, Cecilia Medina and Bekah Luce created the rug at the request of Marilyn Booker, who facilitates restorative justice circles at the high school. Booker wanted a symbol that complemented her practice, and students came up with the design. They showcased the rug at the district’s recent Fine Arts Festival.

Restorative justice, an outreach of the Grand Rapids-based nonprofit Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan that started at the high school last school year, is a non-punitive, conflict-resolution program that helps students solve differences using trained mediators.

Sinai Salvador, Cecilia Medina and Bekah Luce created the mandala Circle of Art to symbolize restorative justice
Sinai Salvador, Cecilia Medina and Bekah Luce created the mandala Circle of Art to symbolize restorative justice

Connecting, Uniting, Restoring

In restorative circles, students who are having conflicts tell each other through guided conversation with Booker what’s on their minds. They hold something, like a squishy ball, to indicate their turn to speak. The goal is to reduce suspensions and address harmful behaviors in a therapeutic way. It has been successful and was expanded to the junior high this school year.

Booker lays the rug on the floor in the middle of the circles to give students a focal point if they aren’t quite ready to meet eye-to-eye.

“We made the rug to help relieve anxiety with these groups,” said Bekah. “A lot of times the kids don’t feel comfortable and don’t know where to look.”

The circle is a universal and eternal symbol seen in many aspects of life: the sun, the moon, the earth and the universe. Conflict is also a universal and eternal issue in society, Booker said: “In a circle, there is no disconnect. We are all connected in some way, shape, or form. … Part of doing circles isevery voice is important.

“We are restoring kids instead of pushing them out,” she said.

Wyoming is a very diverse district, the fourth most diverse in the state, according to the website, Niche. In that context, Sinai explained the depth she sees in the piece.

“You can think of all the colors we connected in the mandala rug as all the races that are connected in our school society,” Sinai said. “That’s why it’s used in the restorative program. It gets everyone together.”

She sees the school’s diversity as a plus for understanding, noting “we all get along. It doesn’t matter where you come from, we all understand that we have different customs, but we all come together because we are all equal.

“It’s a way for the school environment to flourish. That’s also why we picked the flower.”

Art and Its Many Connections

Wyoming High’s National Art Honor Society, which includes 21 students, focuses on creating art that connects with the greater community, school community and with themselves, said adviser and art teacher Robin Gransow-Higley.

In 1978, the National Art Education Association began the NAHS program to inspire and recognize students who have shown an outstanding ability and interest in art, though it’s open to all students.

Wyoming NAHS students organized the district’s recent Fine Arts Festival, which included works from those in grades K-12, plus choir and theater performances, demonstrations by various clubs, face-painting and other activities. Students are also creating a mural representing student athletics and activities.

The club aims to encircle the community it its own way, through art, Higley said.

“They connect with the greater community, school community and with themselves,” she said.

CONNECT

National Art Honor Society

Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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