Counter Street Gangs Intelligence
Consulting Solutions Inc.
Specializing in Domestic Terrorism
823 W. Park Avenue, Suite 161
Ocean, NJ 07712
(732) 922-4525 or (732) 922-4514
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Because schools are the second ones to know if gangs or school violence exist within their walls or community we decided that information should also be made available to them so as to have them as a partner in our fight against gang and school violence.
MEASURES TO ENSURE SCHOOL SAFETY
Youth violence in many schools, frequently mirroring the situation in the surrounding community, has reached pandemic proportions. In some communities the situation is so bad that young offenders are being sent to boot camps or "shock incarceration programs," or are required to perform supervised community service.
Especially frightening is the increased availability of weapons, guns in particular. The fact that more and more weapons are showing up in schools underscores how readily accessible they are. In response to this phenomenon, schools are resorting to random checks of students' book bags, backpacks, or lockers. They are also increasing their use of metal detectors to identify students carrying weapons. Many schools are moving to physical means of control-fences, blocked access roads, and locked and chained doors-to guard against violence.
Such measures are costly and reflect the real and unpleasant image of being locked up. They divert funds from efforts to reform education and restructure schools: to raise standards by improving the curriculum, reducing class size, providing professional development programs for teachers or special programs for students.
All of the strategies described herein are important and, perhaps, necessary. However, they are too little and, perhaps, too late. Most strategies to curb violence in school and society are designed to respond to violence after it has occurred rather than to prevent it.
School wide Strategies
Staff Monitoring and Guards
The most common school security measure used to prevent violence or other disruptive acts requires school staff, in particular teachers and security staff, to monitor students' movements in and around the school. Thus, staff monitor hallways, doorways, restrooms, the cafeteria or lunch rooms, and the areas of the campus where students tend to congregate. In addition, more and more school funds are used to hire retired police officers or security guards to patrol buildings and provide security at sports and other school sponsored events.
Parents as Monitors And Teachers' Aides
Equally effective, if not more so, and less costly than guards, is the use of students' parents as monitors and teachers' aides. Youth are less likely to misbehave or engage in violent acts if parents from their neighborhood are highly visible on a daily basis in their school. Several schools have used this strategy and found it to be highly effective.
Discipline and Dress Codes
Institutionalization of discipline and dress codes is another strategy used to curb violence. These codes should be developed collaboratively by administrators, teachers, parents, and students. Discipline and dress codes should be reviewed by the school district's legal staff to assure compliance with state school law. Equally important, schools must be sure that the rules created have a purpose and that they explicitly tell students what kinds of behavior are acceptable. Included in these codes should be policies that delineate how the school will deal with students who are chronic disciplinary problems, such as suspensions, expulsions, and filing criminal charges against perpetrators if necessary.
Discipline and dress codes should be reviewed and revised to ensure that they are appropriate for the student population and that they are contributing to a safe, orderly school environment. Every administrator, teacher, parent, and student should receive a copy of the codes. They should be reviewed in each class so that every student is aware of their existence and the consequences of violating any rules. School administrators and teachers should ensure that the codes are implemented consistently and firmly, but also fairly.
To assure that parents receive and review the school's discipline code, the State of Virginia enacted a law effective May 1995 requiring parents, under penalty of a fine, to sign and return a copy of the school rules. The law also requires parents of suspended students to meet with school officials or face a fine up of to five hundred dollars. Similarly, a 1994 Alabama law holds parents liable when students damage school property. The intent of these laws is to make parents "more accountable for the misbehavior of their sons and daughters" (Baker, 1995).
Attempts to implement the Virginia law met a firestorm of resistance from parents and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute that defends religious freedom, however. While the intent of the law was to get parents to be more accountable for the behavior of their children, it has instead been interpreted as a violation of parents' religious belief that discipline is a parental matter. These groups perceive that the state is usurping the role of parents by demanding their acquiescence in any decisions made by school officials regarding their child (Finn, 1995).
Schools should establish counseling programs for students, and assure that students do indeed have access to their counselors. Currently, most elementary schools do not have counselors, and if they do, they are in the schools for only one or two days per week. At the high school level, counselors are part of the staff. However, the average high school counselor has between 350-400 students to advise. Needless to say, students are lucky to see their counselor once during a school year-usually when it is time to sign up for the next year's classes-and this contact often occurs in a large group. In order to effectively counsel the students in the school-whether academically or behaviorally-and to ensure that students have access to their assigned counselor on a regular basis, counselors should be assigned no more than 125-150 students per school year. They should be relieved of clerical and other non-counseling responsibilities.
Conflict Resolution Programs
Another form of "counseling" is the widespread use of conflict resolution strategies to defuse potentially violent situations and to persuade those involved to use nonviolent means to resolve their differences. DeJong (1994) noted that "Conflict itself with its roots in competition, poor communication, and miscalculation, is a normal part of life and cannot be eliminated (whether in schools [public or private] or the community at large). What must change, therefore, is how we respond to it."
Schools that have adopted conflict resolution strategies are trying to teach young people new ways of channeling their anger into constructive, nonviolent responses to conflict. As a means of addressing violence, conflict resolution programs in schools start by identifying a core group of student leaders in the school. This group receives intensive training and supervision in the use of conflict resolution strategies and student mediation. Members of the "conflict resolution team" then use their skills and knowledge to help maintain order in the school by counseling their peers, intervening in disputes among students, helping them talk through their problems, and training other students to use conflict resolution strategies. Conflict resolution strategies should be used in individual classrooms as well as School wide.
In addition, high school team members should visit students in elementary school and teach them the value of conflict resolution skills. Thus, conflict resolution strategies can be used for both prevention and intervention.
Schools should strongly consider the establishment of crisis centers for students who commit violent acts or threaten violence. Teachers and administrators can refer students to the centers, which should be staffed by professionals who are specially trained to work with violent students. Crisis centers should not be used for long-term interventions, but rather as in-school areas where students can be sent to "cool off" and to receive on-the-spot counseling. Nor should crisis centers be viewed as a replacement for after school detention programs.
Teacher Crisis Meetings
Efforts to prevent violence in schools must involve teachers at every step of the process. Whether or not told through formal communications channels, all teachers are aware of the discipline problems, including acts of violence, which occur in their school. Strategies designed to eliminate or reduce such problems will not work unless teachers are involved in the design and implementation of programs to establish a safe, orderly environment in the school. Further, it is important for teachers to be part of on-going discussions regarding the status of discipline problems and acts of violence occurring on the school campus. It is also important for teachers to be able to discuss major discipline problems they are having with students in their classrooms. These discussions can be part of regular monthly faculty meetings or special sessions designed to apprise faculty and staff of any major problems related to violence in the school. When faculty members are aware of what is going on in the school and of strategies to address problems, they are apt to become actively involved in supporting School wide efforts to correct the problem. Furthermore, when teachers are part of the process, they are more willing to become part of the "school team" and to work to achieve the goal of creating a school that is safe for all.
Teacher Team Meetings
Teachers in schools organized into interdisciplinary teams that teach the same group of students can exchange ideas about successful strategies for working with disruptive or violence-prone students during their team meetings. They can learn from each other how best to manage the students' behavior and can establish a uniform set of standards or rules of discipline for their classes to be recognized and supported by the school administration.
Support for Teachers
Critical to the elimination of violent acts in schools is support for teachers' efforts to address discipline problems. Since teachers are the frontline school staff members responsible for handling discipline problems, it is paramount that they receive support from their administration. While one of the major complaints from administrators is that teachers are not consistent in applying school discipline rules, teachers often complain that they do not receive support from school administrators when they report students for disruptive, or even violent, behavior. Obviously, teachers must be consistent in applying rules of discipline. And, administrators must provide teachers and other school staff with the assurance that violent students will be dealt with swiftly and firmly, and that teachers will receive support in their efforts to maintain an orderly classroom. Nothing is more discouraging to a teacher than sending a student who is disrupting a classroom to the office, only to see the student return half an hour later to tell friends that his or her misbehavior was not punished. Teachers have to know that they have the total support of the school administration and board of education in their efforts to handle unruly students.
Extended School Hours
Another strategy being used by an increasing number of schools is extending the number of hours that the school is open to students. In some communities, after the regular school day has ended, schools are kept open so that students can participate in organized activities such as sports, gymnastics, crafts, art, music, tutorial programs, or other activities. Other schools, especially elementary schools, provide space for child care programs to accommodate working parents who are unable to pick up their children at the end of the school day and do not want them home alone. All of these activities are supervised by a trained staff.
Classes for Parents
There is an increasing number of teenage parents who lack social or parenting skills, but are raising children who soon will enter school to begin their own formal education. Often these parents have left school without a high school diploma, thereby limiting their employability. As these young parents are living out their own adolescence, their offspring can experience a benign type of abuse in the form of inadequate nurturing during their early years, lack of attention to their developmental needs, and neglect. The media are replete with stories of children who have been left unattended, who have been abandoned, or who have been abused by their parents or by friends of their parents. Having been victims of abuse and violence, these children tend to grow up to become abusers as adults, thus repeating the cycle of abuse and violence.
To serve this population, many school districts have established classes for parents to teach them effective parenting skills, provide them with an opportunity to earn a GED, and offer them vocational training so they can find employment. By participating in such programs, young parents can then provide better guidance to their own children and become a positive role model for them.
Since school personnel are faced with competing demands that overcrowd their schedule, acts of disruption are typically handled in a routine manner, following a prescribed discipline code. These codes tend to be legalistic and punitive, and are unlikely to result in sustained improvement in student behavior. Therefore, it can be very useful for schools to also use positive incentives to prevent violence.
For example, a successful program in elementary schools called "Getting Caught Being Good" provides a positive approach to curbing students' disruptive and violent behavior. The school establishes a recognition and reward system for students who are observed in a significant act of good school citizenship. The overall goal of this program is to bring about a change in the students and in the school climate so that normative behavior is constructive.
Another positive approach to violence prevention is providing students with positive role models. Schools should invite high profile leaders in the community (i.e., police officers, athletes, media representatives, and parents) to visit schools and talk with students about crime and violence.
These strategies indicate that the best school-based violence prevention programs seek to do more than reach students who may be prone to violence and their victims. The most effective programs are designed to change the total school environment by creating a safe school community that believes in and practices nonviolence in resolving differences.
To maintain a safe and orderly classroom conducive to teaching and learning, a teacher must set forth both academic and behavioral expectations for all students. In addition to School wide codes, each teacher must articulate to students on the first day of class the basic standards of behavior for the class. Additional standards may be developed with input from the students to reinforce their commitment to the standards.
The classroom behavior standards should comply with the school's code, but they need not be as detailed. As a matter of fact, the fewer the better. The standards should be given to the students in writing and should be posted in the classroom. They should be clearly stated and understood by all students in the class. Also, a copy of the standards should be sent home to parents.
Teachers are responsible for establishing and maintaining the climate in the classroom and for managing the students. It is very important for them to establish control on the first day of school and maintain it steadily thereafter. Students are perceptive and become quickly aware of teachers who are "not in control" of their classrooms. Being in control does not mean being rigid or being a "tyrant"; it means asserting authority and demanding and getting respect.
Teachers also must ensure that the behavior standards are followed, and they must do so in a manner that is fair, but firm and consistent. Students who fail to comply with the discipline standards must be dealt with quickly and firmly. Constantly changing the rules or extending the list will simply cause confusion. Failure to enforce them will result in the students' ignoring or constantly breaking them; it will lead to chaos.
Equally important, and often a factor ignored in discussions about discipline and violence in schools, is the academic side of the issue. Again, it is the responsibility of the teacher to establish the ethos in the classroom regarding academic expectations. The objectives for each lesson, and each unit, should be clearly articulated to the students prior to teaching it. Preferably, these objectives should be in writing, either on the chalkboard or on paper given to the students. They should be explained to the class along with an explanation of the teaching and learning activities to be used to achieve them.
Classrooms where the academic objectives are unclear are fertile for disruptive student behavior, and, perhaps, violence. This does not mean that every student should be seated quietly at a desk with a book open or busy filling in the blanks on a form. It does mean that the lessons have been carefully planned to elicit maximum teaching and learning. It means students are actively engaged in learning activities-sometimes in groups, at other times working alone, and later as a full class. It means using strategies to ensure that students comprehend what is being taught and are able to demonstrate their understanding of the coursework. It means insisting that all students strive to meet the academic as well as behavioral standards for the class and assisting those who have difficulty doing so.
Teachers know that disruptive or violent behavior in the classroom is a way for some students to mask their frustration and anger over their academic deficiencies. The fact that all students are not alike and do not acquire knowledge the same way must be reflected in the teacher's method of instruction. Applied strategies of effective teaching, along with lesson plans that respond to students' cultural diversity and learning styles, can significantly reduce instances of potentially disruptive or violent behavior.
Strategies For Individuals Students
Thus far, this chapter has focused on violence in schools and strategies for addressing the problem from a classroom or School wide perspective. However, it is also important to focus on individual students in order to prevent them from becoming chronically disruptive or violent. The following strategies are designed to encourage students to focus on discipline as a positive means of behavior.
Tutors and Mentors
The discussion above cited lack of parental supervision at home as one of the factors contributing to student violence. With the absence of a "significant adult" in their lives, many students lack the nurturing that comes from parental support and guidance. Some school communities seek to fill this void by establishing tutoring programs and providing mentors for students. The mentors are community volunteers from business, service organizations, colleges and universities, churches, and retiree organizations. They have made a significant difference in the lives of many young people.
Some schools and communities have made efforts to reduce the number of property crimes by providing part-time employment for students during the school year and full-time employment during the summer months. The goals of these work programs include building self-esteem and a sense of responsibility, and learning the value of money and the importance of getting a good education and staying in school until graduation (Kuhn, 1990).
With encouragement and financial support for pilot programs from the National Alliance of Business and the Ford Foundation, several urban school districts have organized "youth Collaborative." These Collaborative, also known as "The Compact Project," began with the Boston Compact and have extended to over a dozen large urban school districts. Focusing initially on school dropout prevention and the preparation of youth for the work force, they were among the early proponents of the need to provide coordinated services for youth and families. With the support of the business community, school districts seek to address the needs of students at risk of educational failure through the combined efforts of the city government, health, law enforcement, education, and social service agencies, and the religious community (National Alliance of Business, 1989) and the National Alliance of Hate Crime Investigators http://NAOHCI.Bizland.com.
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