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February 1, 1995
Vol. 52
No. 5

What Cities Are Doing to Protect Kids

With approaches ranging from weapons confiscation to character education, schools across the country are taking the offensive in the fight against violence.

“Safe Schools” was the theme of the November 1994 Catalyst, an independent publication created to further improvement efforts in Chicago's public schools. Associate Editor Debra Williams detailed strategies taken to prevent violence in Chicago schools over the past few years. Intern Elizabeth Crouch summed up related measures in four other cities: Buffalo, Memphis, Baltimore, and Cleveland.
Following is a brief adaptation of Williams's findings and a reprint of Crouch's article.

Chicago, Illinois — Community Security Force

No longer reassured by the scores of Board of Education security personnel and the more than 120 city police officers assigned to schools, Chicago public schools have hired their own security staffs, using state Chapter 1 funds. Composed of parents and other paid community members, the troops have grown since 1990. (At one high school, 50 parents hired as mentors work in shifts to monitor eight floors.)
The conspicuous presence of more adults, and particularly parents, has proven to be the most successful deterrent to school violence, according to principals—more so than the metal detectors that nine schools have installed. In four years, crimes that endanger children have dropped 18 percent, and arrests made on school property for murder, aggravated battery, robbery, and other serious crimes have fallen 46 percent.
  • 24-hour security cameras in hallways and lunchrooms (they've drastically reduced gang-related fights);
  • character education, in which concepts such as honesty, integrity, and values are discussed;
  • peer mediation, in which trained students help their peers settle disputes;
  • a school “learning center” for kids in trouble to head off minor problems before they mushroom;
  • mentoring sessions for male students with male teachers and police officers;
  • activities to bolster students' self-esteem, pride in themselves and their culture, and respect for one another (career days, Kwaanza, cheer-leading programs, and so on); and
  • dress codes or school uniforms to give kids structure.

Buffalo, New York — Tight Security

Last year, Buffalo Public Schools began requiring students to store backpacks and schoolbags in their lockers as soon as they enter school. In addition, lockers are searched at random by school security teams.
These policies are part of a comprehensive program that began in 1993 to eliminate weapons and violence in the schools. Other efforts include a telephone tip-line, increased security, and security and police patrols of the neighborhoods around the schools.
Already, the program is paying off. The number of weapons confiscated dropped from 346 in 1992–93 to 151 in 1993–94, and the number of assaults dropped from 211 to 156.
“[If you] go to school [where] there is disorder, small incidents become disasters,” says William Jackson, the district's director of security. “The key to running a good school is order.”
For more information, contact Buffalo Public Schools at (716) 851-3575.

Memphis, Tennessee — Weapon Hotline

Memphis schoolchildren can now earn money for reporting weapons on school grounds, so long as the weapons are found. By collaborating with Crime Stoppers, a nationally known crime hotline, and the Memphis Police Department, the school system created the Weapons Watch hotline. Crime Stoppers pays students $50 for reporting weapons on campus, and that amount was recently doubled by a local organization interested in reducing crime. Students who call in information remain anonymous, but they receive a verification number to use to claim their reward if a weapon is found.
So far, 130 weapons have been confiscated through the hotline, says Bob Raby, security coordinator for the Memphis schools. Altogether, the total number of weapons confiscated has risen from 279 in 1992–93 to 314 in 1993–94, and Raby attributes the increase to Weapons Watch.
While the money provides an incentive, the key is offering tipsters anonymity, says Raby. Many students, he explains, never call back to obtain their reward.
For more information on the Weapon Hotline, contact Bob Raby at (901) 325-5773.

Baltimore, Maryland — Safe Havens

When Baltimore School Superintendent Walter Amprey and Mayor Kurt Schmoke held the first of three “safe school summits” with students in August 1992, they found that most students felt safe in school but did not feel safe going to and from school.
The idea of a “safety corridor”—a group of churches, businesses, or other institutions that would open up their doors to students for two hours before and after school—developed as a result.
Eight churches volunteered to become “safe havens” in the district's first pilot corridor, launched in early October. The safe havens are intended to serve as temporary emergency shelters for frightened or injured children.
In a kick-off ceremony, over 2,000 parents, students, staff, and church volunteers marched through the neighborhood served by the pilot corridor, which is home to 7,000 students in 11 public and 3 private schools.
The 87 volunteers, most of whom are senior citizens, have been trained in conflict resolution and crime prevention. Volunteers were taught what to do if a child has been involved in a crime, is injured or ill, or is just plain scared. Many of the volunteers sit on the front steps of the churches to let the children know that there are people looking out for them.
Already, some children have come to the havens. And other neighborhoods are planning new havens that will include businesses and other institutions. Louise Phipps-Senft, an attorney who volunteered to organize the program along with Pastor Marshall Prentice of Zion Baptist Church, believes that churches should be the backbone of the corridors since they are already considered safe, but, she says, “We will work with whomever is there.”
For more information on Safe Havens, contact Annabelle Sher at (410) 396-8723 or Louise Phipps-Senft at (410) 235-9655.

Cleveland, Ohio — Watch Your Hands

In 1990, the Cleveland Public Schools began teaching elementary students what is, and is not, acceptable behavior. “We came across many instances where kids did not understand appropriate behavior,” says Cordelia Harris, a health educator who helped develop the Watch Your Hands program.
The core of the program is an interactive student assembly, held at each of the 88 elementary schools, at which staff from the health education department teach children what hands should be and should not be used for. Handshaking and drawing, for example, are good uses while hitting and punching are not.
The program also covers sexual misconduct, fighting, and even cheating on tests. Teachers are trained in followup classroom activities, such as having students create art from hand prints or holding discussions about fighting.
Parental involvement is also stressed. All parents receive a newsletter on the program, with ideas for at-home lessons, such as reviewing the “Hands Rules.” Some schools provide parent training sessions.
The key to the program, officials say, is reinforcement, with lessons for each grade designed to build on the preceding year. “It's a continuous process,” says Steve Sroka, a program consultant/teacher.
For more information, contact the Health Education Office of the Cleveland Public Schools at (216) 574-8685.

Elizabeth Crouch has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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