Learning circles

Wilshire Park Elementary student Julia Kim talks during a session about acts of kindness. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times / November 27, 2010)

It's story time at Amelia Earhart Continuation School, a place where high school students who have ditched class, flunked out or otherwise fallen behind in their academic credits come to catch up.

On this day, the students in Nancy Stringer's English class sit in a circle. As they pass around a "talking piece" — a black rubber rat named Scar — they share stories of elementary and middle school.

I stabbed a kid. I broke my hand. I got my first kiss. I got straight A's. I was scared of ghosts because a janitor committed suicide.

It may seem simple, but the North Hollywood students say that sharing stories in this way — a practice known as "council" — has made a huge difference in their lives. Through stories, they say,