Violence in the Community

While bullies, gangs, weapons, and substance abuse all contribute to the fear experienced by many of today's students, violence in America's neighborhoods and communities cannot be overlooked. Notwithstanding the sometimes unfounded and overgeneralized fear and apprehension about violence among children and adults, often fueled by the media, violence in America is a legitimate concern for everyone. Likewise, research and statistics regarding juvenile victimization cannot be entirely discounted as mere media sensationalism.

PhotoFor example, according to America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, a report released in 1997 by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics in Washington, D.C., almost 2.6 million youth ages 12 to 17 were victims of violent crimes in 1994. For this study, violent crimes were defined as simple and aggravated assault, rape, and robbery.43 The Federal Interagency Forum fosters coordination and collaboration in the collection and reporting of Federal data on children and families, drawing on numerous data sources.

In 1995, high school seniors reported the following types of victimization at school: having something stolen (more than 41 percent); having property deliberately damaged (26 percent); being threatened with a weapon (more than 15 percent); and being threatened without a weapon (more than 23 percent). Of these seniors, 4.7 percent had been injured with a weapon and 11.4 percent had been injured without a weapon.44

Many young people, aware of the dangers that exist within their communities and schools, feel compelled to make changes in their lifestyles. Louis Harris and Associates, Inc., conducted a survey for NCPC and NICEL, Between Hope and Fear: Teens Speak Out on Crime and the Community. Survey results were obtained from interviews of a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 students in grades 7 through 12. The purpose of this 1995 survey was to focus on "the effect of the awareness and fear of violence and crime on young people and the loss of freedom that results."45

Of the students interviewed, 29 percent said that they worried about being victimized in a drive-by shooting, and 46 percent had made at least one change in daily routines because of concerns about personal safety and crime and violence in their communities. Following is a list of changes made in daily routines:

Bullet Changed friends (22 percent).
Bullet Avoided particular parks or playgrounds (20 percent).
Bullet Changed the way they went to or from school (13 percent).
Bullet Carried a weapon (e.g., bat, club, knife, gun) to protect themselves (12 percent).
Bullet Got lower grades in school than they think they otherwise would have (12 percent).
Bullet Stayed home from school or cut class (11 percent).
Bullet Found someone to protect them (10 percent).
Bullet Stopped attending a particular activity or sport (10 percent).

Approximately 1 in 8 students changed the way they went to and from school and more than 1 in 10 stayed home from school or cut class because of concerns about crime and violence in their communities. Such behavior reveals that many students fear for their personal safety while merely attempting to attend school.46

The roots of violence reach deep into society, tapping into such complex conditions as poverty, racism, joblessness, and hopelessness. Each epidemic of violence triggers "knee-jerk" calls for legislation and quick fixes. Often, however, little is done in the long run to change conditions that give rise to violent behaviors. It should be apparent that educators by themselves cannot carry out their mandate of educating children while trying to rid their schools and surrounding communities of violence. The National Association of School Boards of Education has pointed out, "A community problem necessitates community-wide solutions. What has been coined 'school violence' is nothing more than societal violence that has penetrated the schoolhouse walls."47

Community violence gives rise to subsets of associated violence that impact schools. The effects of campus violence can be devastating to both individual students and specific learning environments. Schools that lack effective discipline, respect for academic standards, and basic humanitarian values falter in their mission to provide safe and effective learning environments. Students who live in fear of violence, witness violent acts, or actually become victims of violence suffer an array of consequences ranging from personal injury and debilitating anxiety that interrupt the learning process to a pattern of absence and truancy that can lead to dropping out of school and delinquency. Such disassociation restricts individual options and limits the development of academic and life skills.

Safe Alternatives and Violence Education (SAVE) is a violence awareness education curriculum designed for 10- to 17-year-old students (and the parents of such students) who are found carrying a weapon on or near a school campus. The program was designed in 1993 in conjunction with a countywide effort to reduce weapon possession by youth, especially on school campuses. When a student is found in possession of a weapon on or near a school campus, the student and a parent are required to attend the SAVE program classes. Addressing the relationship between violence and the media, the realities of weapon possession, and the consequences of violence, the class is a one-time, 6-hour, interactive violence awareness curriculum offered year-round on Saturdays.

Referrals may be made by police agencies, juvenile court/probation officials, local schools, community agencies, or parents. Each SAVE class is staffed as needed by three police officers and a language translator. Program administration is handled by one full-time coordinator and a supervising sergeant. Several San Jose school districts use the SAVE program, either as an alternative to school expulsion or as a condition of suspension/expulsion.

In April 1997, the Center for Educational Planning, a division of the Santa Clara County Office of Education, published a program impact evaluation of SAVE. The evaluation reveals that almost 91 percent of the 372 students included in the study have had no subsequent weapons offenses after participating in the SAVE program. In addition, approximately 69 percent of the study participants have had no subsequent offenses of any type.

For more information, contact Suzan Stauffer, SAVE Coordinator, San Jose Police Department, 201 West Mission Street, San Jose, CA 95110, 408-277-4133.

Listed below are some of the types of legislation and collaborative programs undertaken by national, State, and local agencies working in partnership that are producing positive results in reestablishing schools as safe havens for learning:

Bullet Nearly all States have developed some sort of crime-free, weapon-free, or safe-school zone statute. Most States have defined the zones also to include school transportation and locations of school-sponsored functions.
Bullet The above statutes have given rise to zero-tolerance policies for such things as weapons and drugs. These policies are enforced by school districts and individual schools, often with support from local police forces or school-based resource officers.
Bullet Federal regulations established in 1994 mandate that all school districts set up programs to test school bus drivers for drug and alcohol use.48
Bullet Schools are forging partnerships with court officials, probation officers, and other youth-serving professionals to share information on and monitor students who have criminal records or who are in aftercare programs following their terms of incarceration in juvenile justice facilities.49
Bullet School districts are formulating crisis prevention/intervention policies and are directing individual schools to develop such policies and individual safe-school plans.
Bullet School districts, in response to local needs, have stepped up efforts to improve school security by installing security aids or devices and providing services such as:
Bullet Completing criminal background checks on teachers and school staff members before a work assignment is made.
Bullet Establishing Neighborhood Watch programs in areas near schools.
Bullet Recruiting parents to provide safe houses along school routes and to monitor "safe corridors" or walkways to and from school.
Bullet Enlisting parent volunteers to monitor hallways, cafeterias, playgrounds, and school walkways in order to increase visibility of responsible adults.
Bullet Creating block safety watch programs carried out by area residents at school bus stops as a crime deterrent for school children and area residents.
Bullet Fencing school grounds to secure campus perimeters.
Bullet Replacing bathroom doors with zigzag entrances, to make it easier to monitor sounds, and installing roll-down doors to secure bathrooms after hours.
Bullet Designating one main door entry to school, equipping exits with push bars, and locking all other doors to outside entry.
Bullet Installing bulletproof windows.
Bullet Equipping the school with closed-circuit video surveillance systems to reduce property crime such as break-ins, theft, vandalism, and assaults.
Bullet Designing landscaping to create an inviting appearance without offering a hiding place for trespassers or criminals.
Bullet Installing motion-sensitive lights to illuminate dark corners in hallways or on campus.
Bullet Mounting convex mirrors to monitor blind spots in school hallways.
Bullet Equipping classrooms with intercom systems connected to the central school office.
Bullet Issuing two-way radios to security patrols or campus staff members.
Bullet Purchasing cellular phones for use in crises or emergency situations.
Bullet Requiring photo identification badges for students, teachers, and staff and identification cards for visitors on campus.

The Adolescent Social Action Program (ASAP) at the University of New Mexico (UNM) uses peer resistance and decisionmaking training to increase self-efficacy, social responsibility, and life skills. Youth participants engage in social action activities to address conditions that lead to high-risk behaviors, such as substance use and abuse, gangs, and violence. Preliminary research findings indicate a significant impact on the development of positive coping skills, the ability to influence others, and reduced rates in teen drinking behaviors.

For more than 14 years, ASAP has operated in more than 30 communities in New Mexico, including Native-American reservations and small, rural Hispanic communities. At the heart of ASAP is the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, whose model emphasizes listening, dialog, and action. Small groups of students are taken on supervised visits to a local or regional hospital (three visits), a detention center (one visit), and the Metro court (one visit). The students interview the patients and inmates and listen to their stories. Then, using critical thinking strategies, they examine the consequences of the patients' and inmates' actions through dialogs led by trained graduate and undergraduate university facilitators and reflect on their own lives.

ASAP staff also conduct and develop local and national training for teachers, community groups, and health professionals on empowerment-based education, peer education, and working with youth.

For more information, contact Lily Dow, Adolescent Social Action Program, Family Practice Building, Third Floor, 2400 Tucker NE., Albuquerque, NM 87131-5241, 888-738-2940, 505-272-5532, 505-272-4494 (fax).

Combating Fear and Restoring Safety in Schools Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  April 1998