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Examining culturally relevant restorative practices for improving school-based relationships

Principal Investigator (PI) / Project Lead:


Funding Organization:

University of Utah Office of the Vice President for Research (VPR)


Faculty Scholarly Grant Program (FSGP) – University Research Committee (URC)

Award Number:


Project Period:

3/1/2019 – 3/25/2022, NCE to 9/25/2022

Total Funding:


Project Status:

In progress


Project Description:

This purpose of this qualitative study is to gain a better understanding of how the recently implemented culturally relevant restorative justice (RJ) practices and Navajo Peacemaking in San Juan School District impact relationships and sense of belonging for American Indian (AI) high school students.  Also, of interest is whether these culturally relevant practices align with trauma-informed literature. The research questions that this study will answer are:

  • Do culturally responsive RJ practices improve students’ sense of belonging in school?
  • As a result of RJ practices, have students and parents developed new or improved positive relationships with other students, educators, school personnel?
  • Do RJ practices in SJSD align with literature about trauma-informed practices for building resiliency?



The educational outcomes for American Indian students, when compared to other racial groups, are among the lowest. One approach for addressing the educational disparities is to improve school discipline practices by embracing culturally relevant restorative justice (RJ) practices. Often the success of RJ practices use outcome measures such as attendance, grades, suspension, and expulsion. However, missing from these outcomes are whether positive school-based relationships improve and if a sense of trust and belonging impact student engagement. Interviews will be conducted with five high school students from three high schools within San Juan School District. Students will be recruited to participate in the study if they have been involved with culturally relevant RJ practices within the last three years. This study will use phenomenological analysis to examine how culturally relevant Native restorative justice practices, implemented in the San Juan School District (SJSD), influence school-based relationships. Also missing from the literature is if and how the current trauma-informed literature aligns with restorative justice practices. This study will compare the qualitative themes (created during the analysis) to assess whether the RJ practices align with current trauma-informed practices. The findings will be a starting point to advance our understanding about how culturally relevant RJ practices improve educational outcomes for American Indian students. Subsequent studies will follow to create school-based interventions that improve school culture and climate and to develop culturally relevant RJ curriculum for public schools.



Project currently in progress.

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Last Updated: 2/2/22