Grad applies restorative practices to her work with youth

Photos by Dan Toulgoet

As a youth outreach worker with Pathways to Education, Jaclyn Barkase meets regularly with high school students from Vancouver’s low-income communities. “You’re not like other adults, are you?” they’ve been known to observe—much to Jaclyn’s delight. The recent graduate of SFU’s Restorative Justice Certificate program says it’s the best compliment she can receive.

“Restorative justice asks us to move away from ideas of hierarchy,” she explains. “I don’t need to be the authority figure. For me, it’s about building trust and treating kids not as students, but seeing them as humans. I take a lot of pride in that.”

No doubt the young people in Jaclyn’s caseload are also drawn to her infectious energy. She bubbles over with enthusiasm as she describes her work and the enormous satisfaction of being able to support kids who face numerous barriers on the path to finishing high school.

“We recognize that school is not set up for everyone to be successful,” she says. “Kids are under a lot of pressure, but it’s important to help them understand that there’s more than one way to do things, to get where they want to be.”

Jaclyn’s passion for education was instilled in her from an early age. Her mother was a teacher in East Vancouver, and Jaclyn’s grandmother highly prized education, having immigrated from China without ever having the opportunity to attend school. Jaclyn began working with young people early in her career and immediately found her calling.

“It’s about helping kids see what they can do for themselves,” she explains. “After all, they are the future.”

When Jaclyn enrolled in the Restorative Justice program at SFU, she wanted to build on her psychology degree but was looking for something practical. Although she wasn’t interested in going into the “justice” side of restorative work, such as victim-offender mediation, the restorative approach still appealed to her.

“I chose this program because I believe this is how people should be treated,” she says. “These are the values we need to hold when interacting with people.”

For Jaclyn, the program validated values she had long held true but hadn’t been able to express. “I sometimes felt like I was the only one who believed certain things—about racism, privilege, intersectionality, decolonization…. But now I feel confident calling out or challenging some ideas because I have the language to communicate what I’ve learned.”

The program helped Jaclyn to understand conflict differently and reframe her approach, which has been essential in her work. But she cautions that taking the restorative justice program shouldn’t be about getting a certificate and ticking a box—it’s for the learner who wants a deeper experience.

“This isn’t a typical academic program,” she says. “Yes, you’ll learn the background of RJ, the tools and language, but you’ll learn a lot about yourself too. It’s going to challenge you to ask hard questions.”

For Jaclyn, restorative practice has now become infused into every part of her life: “It’s part of my daily interactions with people. A lot of restorative work is not new, but rooted in Indigenous teachings, so I’m trying to instill those values, live by those values. I want to show young people that there are different ways of being in the world.”

The program made such an impression, Jaclyn was even inspired to get a tattoo. Showing off the hummingbird emblazoned on her forearm, she explains the story she’d learned in one of the lessons. In the Indigenous parable, a courageous hummingbird attempts to battle a raging forest fire, one tiny bead of water at a time. When the other animals in the forest scoff at these seemingly futile efforts, the hummingbird quietly responds, “I am doing what I can.”

“I feel like that hummingbird,” says Jaclyn. “I’m only one person. Maybe I can’t be fully restorative in my work all the time, but if I can commit to doing it whenever I can, I can still make a difference.

“A small change is better than no change.”

By Kim Mah