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Violence and Schools
Charlotte Williams, Learning First Alliance
Recently, NPR did a special series on violence among youth in Chicago. Schools and students all over the country—especially in urban areas—deal with the everyday-threat of violence. Clearly, this omnipresent factor can take a huge toll on public schools.Mayor-elect of Chicago Rahm Emanuel says the violence in the city is unacceptable, and he has promised to hire a thousand new police officers as part of his crime policy. One article quotes him stating, “My goal for the four years, and the measurement of my progress, will be whether that child can be thinking of their studies, and not their safety.”
Already the city—relying on schools and police—is implementing intensive efforts to try to combat what some consider an epidemic of youth violence in Chicago—efforts that may provide good models for other cities and school districts facing these problems.
Chicago Public High Schools are in their second year of a two-year anti-violence initiative in collaboration with other community players, and funded in part by federal stimulus money. This serves as an example of how important community partnership is in school success—schools can’t do it on their own.
Some of the efforts:
- Police and school principals use an instant communications system to discuss problems in schools that could be acted on in the streets.
- An initiative called CeaseFire uses former gang members to mediate youth conflicts in schools before they become violent, and help teenagers find jobs to make crime less appealing. According to the article, a study by the Justice Department found the group’s interventions successful in helping to decrease shootings and killings in violent neighborhoods.
- The “Safe Passage” initiative uses collaboration among police, the Chicago Transit Authority, and local community groups to try to ensure students who have to travel through dangerous neighborhoods and gang turf get safely to and from school. School officials also use data on students who have been shot in the past to look for common traits in order to identify the teenagers most at risk of becoming shooting victims.
- Becoming a Man (BAM) tries to intervene with males—focusing on anger management, open discussion of feelings, and other life skills—before they are drawn into a gang or drop out of school.
- Chicago Public Schools have also initiated a program called Culture of Calm to counter the culture of violence in homes, neighborhoods, and in the schools. The initiative evaluates various aspects of the school experience, including the way students enter the building (now they come through one door which helps curb chaos) and the way faculty greet and reprimand students (trying to be less confrontational), and the way victims of shooting are re-integrated into school. The district wants to extend the program to 38 of the city’s most troubled schools.
- As part of the Culture of Calm, one high school has initiated a “Peace Room”—a classroom staffed by trained personnel and set aside for students to resolve conflicts or cool down after a confrontation, whether with other students or school faculty (according to the article, a third of students have visited the room, and in most cases they were able to by pass a physical fight).
Many of these efforts look promising, and I hope other cities can build on these successes to better deal with violence and poverty cycles that greatly impact education.