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RJ Mentor & Mentee Project

Leading with the Heart: RJ Peer Mentorship Takes off at Reach and Alliance

Read what student Alliance mentors and their partners at Reach have to say about the exchange below - (Original article can be found at OUSD website and The Oakland Post)

Restorative Mentoring is a unique pilot program in which middle school mentors from Alliance Academy visit nearby Reach Academy to model the practice of restorative justice (RJ) and build community during recess and lunchtime.

The mentors cultivate the elementary students’ self-esteem through positive interaction and aim to establish a supportive relationship that continues throughout their school years.  

RJ Facilitators Nimat Shaheed at Reach and Joshua Staub at Alliance lead the exchange. “I attended school here, I know the area very well. Back then we moved through schools as a cohort, we knew everyone. We’re living in more fractured times” said Nimat. “Last year Josh and I started talking about getting the children together. The idea of restorative justice is not just restoring it in the school but reaching  back into the community, working inside and out.”

Alliance students take the short walk (pictured) over to Reach for a bi-monthly session. The only thing we told them is when you’re interacting, lead with your heart. They’re only here for about a 40 minute window, but I can guarantee each of those students had a twinkle in their eye by the time they left. A couple of our girls hugged the other girls,” Nimat recalled.

This is a pilot year between Reach and Alliance, and will establish the structure and tracking mechanisms to measure success and community amongst schools as it expands. Next year the mentorship program is planning on wrapping in nearby Castlemont High School as well.

“It’s a bright spot” explained Nimat. “We see that spark and excitement emerging so we know it’s working and we have to perfect it and keep it going. If we can begin to build a relationship between the older and younger students, then they’re not strangers. They start to ask ‘How are you doing? Is everything okay?’ It restores a larger atmosphere of how to deal with problems, how to get through and resolve conflict.”

The benefits of peer mentorship are reciprocal for students. Being in an advisory capacity requires that student manage their own selves while making an impression with the group.  As leaders, student mentors become much clearer on what community and restorative justice are and and use their insights to help younger students develop their own interpersonal skills.

"I love how the roles are reversed, the students become the teachers. The blossoming leadership I see in my RJ youth through this mentorship program is inspiring. One of our school values at Alliance is Nia, which means giving back to the community. This is exactly what these youth are doing for East Oakland” said Joshua.

Rj circle
RJ walk
RJ girls group
RJ leaders

Pictured: Back row from left: Reach Principal Natasha Moore, Nimat Shaheed, Josh Staub, Alicia Cooke, Kobe Allen, Syliss Jackson, Marbely Galeano, Shante Ford. Second row from left: Katherine Alvarenga, Dwana Timms, Derek Cardenas, Tamiia Smith

Reach students say:

Having Kobe for my mentor is helpful, nice and it feels joyful. I hope that he helps me next year when I am in 2nd grade. I want to say thank you to him.

King Coffee, 1st grade

At first I was nervous but then I wanted to sit in circles with the Alliance Girls because they really made me feel comfortable and happy.

Sarah Hoeft, 5th grade

It feels good to express our opinion and not just ours, but the Alliance girls too. We are planning to do a lot of fun stuff together. That excites me and now my energy is better.

Kaylee Hernandez, 5th grade

Alliance mentors say:

Being a mentor is great because I see what it's like to be a teacher. What I have to do is listen to the kid's ideas and try to find a way to fit them in.

Nala Lazimba, 7th grade

We share how it is growing up, being a teen. The majority of these kids already went through hard things just growing up in East Oakland. Everyone has a voice, let it be heard.

Brianna Medina-Garcia, 8th grade

The kids look up to you to be their friend, their coach, and to be there for them. It's exciting because usually we are the ones that have to follow directions, focus and pay attention. At REACH, we are the leaders. They ask me if I'm in high school.

Derek Cardenas, 7th grade