June 2, 2013 | Lolly Bowean, Chicago Tribune

At some schools, students find a place for peace

Educators apply justice principles that focus on healing and defusing conflicts – where both sides aim to work through their problems.

The tension between the two Manley High School students started on Facebook, with a wall post that asked a direct, but loaded, question.

"Do you have a problem with me?" one teenager wrote on the other's page.

But by the time Marquita Riley, 16, and Aaliyah Hudson, 17, ended up in their West Side school's "peace room," rumors had floated through the halls that the two girls were going to brawl.

Hoping to defuse the conflict and avoid a physical confrontation that could lead to a 10-day suspension, Aaliyah retreated to the room, a bright classroom with a comfy couch, chairs and posters, to get a counselor to mediate.

There, the girls sat in a circle of chairs, talked and listened to each other until they worked out their problems.

"I came down here and talked before I reacted," Aaliyah said after their session. "That way, 'cause if anything did happen, it wouldn't be my bad. I'd be at fault, but I came down and warned them," she said.

The peace circle and peace room at Manley are a part of the school's restorative justice initiative, a growing social movement that, among other things, focuses on healing and teaching how to resolve conflicts. The philosophy aims to bring together victims and perpetrators to cooperatively work through their problems.

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