A small-town student learns a new way in Chicago

Katie Klotz Graduation Photo

When I came to Roosevelt, I had never heard the term “social justice” in my life, and I was not used to living in the city. I grew up on 40 acres in a tiny town in Michigan called Laingsburg, population 1,200. In Laingsburg, it’s not unusual to see a cow or turkey crossing the street. It’s about as far from Chicago as you can get, even if it’s only a few hours’ drive away.

My parents wanted me to go to nearby Michigan State, where I was accepted, but many people from my town went there and I wanted a drastic change of scenery. Of my graduating class of 102 students, only four of us went out of state. I was one of them and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I’ve been introduced to so many new things and had so many experiences I only could have had at Roosevelt and in Chicago.

I knew Roosevelt was a “social justice school” from the beginning of my time here, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. It was mentioned in classes, and I heard people quoting Eleanor Roosevelt on the topic, but I wasn’t too invested in the subject.

That changed after I became an undergraduate research assistant for Dr. Leslie Rebecca Bloom, an education professor. I worked with her on a project on restorative justice, a form of criminal justice that focuses on rehabilitating—rather than punishing—offenders, and healing victims and the community. We researched restorative justice use in Chicago Public Schools, and how it contrasts with zero-tolerance policies, which are strict rules that allow no room for investigation or negotiation.

The research focused on peace circles, which are when the offender and victim, as well as any relevant outside persons, are brought together with a mediator to discuss any incidents between them, to share their feelings on what happened, and to decide on reparations. My research analyzing peace circle use in schools influenced my Honors Program thesis, which was on the importance of restorative justice and peace circles as a way to teach children respect, empathy and reflective skills. I also wrote about how these methods can resolve conflicts that would otherwise be approached with traditional suspensions and expulsions, which punish students instead of guiding them to a better path.

The concept of restorative justice is the single most important thing I learned during my time at Roosevelt. As an elementary education graduate, its use in schools really made sense to me and made the big idea of “social justice” seem more concrete.

“The concept of restorative justice is the single most important thing I learned during my time at Roosevelt.”

I look forward to putting restorative justice practices to work in my future classroom. I want to introduce children and other teachers to this practice so we can all help the next generation be more empathetic. That will make me a better teacher in any environment, from the big city to a tiny rural town like my own.

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