I’m a writer and education consultant who’s been working on kids’ issues for over 20 years. I’m the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a community-building initiative grounded in restorative practices. I do speaking engagements for all kinds of groups involved with supporting children and their families.
From 1995 through April 2011, I was the weekly education columnist for The Providence Journal. Originally called “EdWatch”, that column morphed into covering pretty much everything having to do with kids. In my new home on a national website, I’m continuing to look not only at schools, but at all the circumstances that affect kids’ lives and their chances for success in growing up.
Across the country, newspapers, websites and blogs pick up my columns and vilify or cheer the ideas, depending on the topic of the week. I’m a frequent speaker at local events and on radio, and formerly hosted a local PBS TV show called Education Watch Rhode Island.
Public Policy and Restorative Practices
I’m a content-and-communications consultant on two data-related projects – InformationWorks Live! and the RIDataHUB. I also consult on various efforts to implement restorative practices in schools and local communities. The biggest and most challenging effort is the ongoing struggle to bring restorative practices to the embattled schools of Central Falls, RI.
In 2007, on a life-changing trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, I shadowed American “street workers” from the Institute for the Study and Practice of Non-Violence. They were working with members of the Irish peace movement, going into the city parks at night to engage angry and disaffected youth. There, waitresses, cabbies and hotel clerks seemed to have “restoration” on the tips of their tongues. They talked as if it were the only truly promising antidote to the brutal gang-war mentality that had dominated the city for decades during “The Troubles,” a plague that could easily erupt again with an ugly incident.
The idea is that punishment – whether suspending a kid from school or locking him up in jail – uses hurt and coercion to control misbehavior. And punishment leads most often to more bad behavior and worse punishment, in an endless cycle of retribution, like the long-standing battle between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Retribution accomplishes nothing and destroys communities. More often than not, punishment alienates kids, just when they most need guidance and connection.
In America, the punishing mindset is deeply ingrained. Restoration is huge internationally. But I’d say most Americans have strong faith that the threat of punishment will prevent crime and misbehavior. So it’s seriously hard work to get some people to see how destructive a reliance on punishment is. For others, oddly, it’s a no-brainer — focus on getting to the root of the problem with a kid and help her get back on track. Restoration builds, maintains and repairs relationships and community. What could be better for kids?
Recently, I’ve started consulting on implementing restorative practices at the new RI Nurses Institute Middle College Charter School, in Providence, and have trained the faculty at Fogarty Elementary School, one of the regular Providence district schools, where they are beginning a small restorative initiative.
More personal history
Children, other than my own boys, first claimed my attention in 1990, when I was appointed to the Providence School Board by an outgoing Mayor. (I was tossed off the Board five years later by Mayor Buddy Cianci, who later spent five years in prison for corruption.) That experience made it seem like “education” was about adults collecting tax money and passing it around among themselves. At best, the kids were an inconvenience. The blatant injustice and short-sightedness toward children drove my civic-minded public spirit to become a personal mission.
I was originally trained in theater arts, earning an advanced graduate degree from Stanford. As a playwright and stage director I won numerous awards, including the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award for directing and the Gassner Playwriting Award. I taught theater for ten years at Rhode Island College, while maintaining a freelance commercial copywriting business.
I’ve also written for magazines and still occasionally find time to work on one of my several books-in-progress. One is mainly about middle-school kids that argues for a complete redesign of their schooling. Another is a memoir about my own coming of age. And most actively, I try to keep a journal of my bizarre experience in the schools of Central Falls.
Received a Bank of America “Local Hero” award, which included $5,000 to the non-profit of my choice — Family Services of RI — to be used for incentives for Central Falls’ students — 2010
Honored at the Rhode Island State House by the League of Charter Schools as a “tireless advocate for charter schools and their students.” – 2008
Honored at the annual meeting of the Groden Center, a nationally renown school and research facility for autistic and other severely disabled students – 2008
Honored as one of the speakers at the 2005 “Women Change America” event, by the U.S. Post Office, Providence, RI
Received the 2003 “Eleanor Briggs Award” from the Kent Center, a mental-health center for mental-health advocacy for children.
Received a Citation from the Congress of the United States, from Patrick Kennedy, for mental health advocacy – 2002
Received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for “Invaluable service to the State of RI” from Congressman James Langevin – 2002
Received “Special recognition” from the Office of the Lieutenant Governor – Charles Fogarty – for service to Community Mental Health – 2002
Honored by the RI Council of Community Health Organizations for mental-health advocacy – 2002
Received “Special recognition for her efforts to raise awareness of the behavioral and emotional needs of children,” by the Providence Center, a community mental-health center – 2002
Honored for “Outstanding Service” by the RI Middle-level Educators – 2001
Received the 2000 “Media Award” from the National Education Association – for distinguished service in Journalism
Honored as a “Leader for Change” by the Public Education Fund/Providence Blueprint for Education (PROBE) – 1999
Keynote at The College-Level Writing Collaborative – 2011
Keynote at the annual Parenting Matters Conference put on by LifeSpan – 2010
Presenter at the annual meeting of the RI’s School Counseling Association – 2010
Keynote at the annual meeting of the Girl Scouts of RI – 2010
Regular guest on the John DiPietro Radio Show — WPRO — 2008
Keynote speaker at the St. Mary’s Home for Children annual meeting – 2008
Moderator and presenter at a discussion about the state of family services in Rhode Island, hosted by Children’s Friend and Service – 2007
Presenter and panelist for the Education panel at Leadership Rhode Island, Johnson and Wales University – 2007
Keynote speaker on middle-school kids and model schools, later that day panelist, all for Gordon School’s strategic-planning retreat, RI – 2007
Appearance on Donna Mac’s radio show – 2007
Appearance on David Kane radio show – 2007
Teacher/lecturer for two sets of combined classes, at Joseph Proccoccini’s invitation, at Loyola University in Columbia, MD – 2006
Keynote speaker at the opening day orientation for Millville Regional Schools in Massachusetts – 2005
Speaker, college night at Classical High School, Providence – 2005
Speaker and presenter (mainly of RI’s health data K-12) for the Health Department’s data training for providers and department staff – 2005
Appearance on the Arlene Violet radio show – 2005
Keynote speaker at the event for friends and contributors to the new Newport campus of the Community College of Rhode Island – 2005
Presenter and panelist speaking about the opportunities and limitations of teachers contracts put on by the RI League of Women Voters – 2005
Keynote speaker at the Feinstein High School graduation exercises – 2005
Keynote speaker at the literacy Volunteers Conference put on by the RI Chapter of the Literacy Volunteers of America – 2003
Speaker at Barnes and Noble at Reading Week – 2004
Appearance on Dan Yorke radio show – 2004
Moderator and host of EdWatch RI for 6 one-hour shows with guests – 2003
Keynote speaker at the East Bay Collaborative’s conference on vocational learning – 2002
Family Service Rhode Island
Member of the Strategic Planning Committee
Mental Health Association
Chair of the Children’s Mental Health Committee
Rhode Island College Feinstein School of Education
Member of the Advisory Board
juliasteiny (AT) gmail (DOT) com