Youth Voices Heard on Violence Prevention
By Meghan Mandeville, News Research Reporter
Four students and a teacher died on March 24, 1998 in Jonesboro, Ark. when two middle school boys shot their classmates during a fire drill. Two high school students died nearly two months later in Springfield, Ore. when an expelled student returned to his school cafeteria with a gun. Thirteen people, mostly students, lost their lives on April 20, 1999 in Littleton, Col. when two Columbine High School students went on a killing spree before taking their own lives.
Whether coincidence or not, springtime in recent years has bred some of the most violent episodes in American school history, leaving educators and students alike wondering how to avert future tragedies. Sponsored by Students Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E.) and The Guidance Channel, next month's First Annual National Youth Violence Prevention Week aims to create awareness of the problem and offer prevention strategies through a variety of programming.
"A spring week helps us to refocus our attention on the importance of students' safety," says Dr. Pamela Riley, the Executive Director of the National Association of S.A.V.E. Research shows that there is an increase in school violence in the spring, she says.
Dr. Riley and S.A.V.E.'s Youth Advisory Board developed the idea for the National Youth Violence Campaign, with the student board members fueling ideas for the weeks' activities.
"We actually took the idea to them to see if they thought it would fly," Riley says about the Board, which consists of 12 high-schoolers from across the country.
"We all said it would be a great idea," says Amanda Elks, Head of the Youth Advisory Board's Education Committee and a senior at D. H. Conley High School in Greenville, N.C. "We were all for it," says Elks who joined S.A.V.E. "to make a difference."
"If I can make a difference and affect somebody else, then they'll make a difference," Elks says. "It's like a domino effect."
Once the Youth Advisory Board decided that there was a need for a National Youth Violence Prevention Week and "the ideas for the campaign came from [them]," Riley says. "I think they were a sounding board."
Central to the theme of the campaign is encouraging students nationwide to become involved in the prevention of youth violence. "There really was not an opportunity [prior to this campaign] to focus in on the young people to see how important their role is in the process of school safety," Riley says.
"S.A.V.E. is an organization that believes that young people can play a powerful role in school safety," Riley says of the group that was started 14 years ago at West Charlotte, N.C., High School in memory of a student who was killed while trying to break up a fight at a party.
Presently, there are over 1,000 S.A.V.E. chapters in 38 U.S. states, Canada, Croatia, and Nigeria and approximately 100,000 members worldwide. S.A.V.E.'s vision mirrors that of the National Youth Violence Campaign: to establish safe and secure schools and communities through students' active participation in violence prevention efforts.
A Week-Long Lesson in Violence Prevention
Each day of National Youth Violence Prevention Week--April 7-11, 2003--will feature a different issue or challenge that the Youth Advisory Board members have chosen because of its fundamental importance to youth violence awareness and prevention. Youth service organizations including the Constitutional Rights Foundation, the American School Counselor Association, the Association for Conflict Resolution, the National Association of School Resource Officers, and Youth Service America (YSA) will each sponsor a day, providing events and activities for students, educators, parents, and communities.
"I think that we zeroed in on things that are pervasive across the country," Riley says about the topics to be addressed, which range from respect and tolerance to conflict resolution. Lessons learned from the survivors of Columbine will also play a prominent role, says Riley.
"Students should try to get to know at least one student they do not know," she says, touching upon the damaging effects of student isolation. "Just someone saying hello to them in the hallway can make such a huge difference to them."
Aside from encouraging interaction and tolerance, the week will strive to promote peaceful ways of conflict resolution "so that young people have a way to talk out their disputes," says Riley. "It's not the conflict that's the problem, it's how we approach that conflict and deal with it," she says, pointing out that even adults sometimes have difficulty managing anger.
"When ball teams empty their benches and fill the ball fields with a brawl, I'm not sure we're sending the right message," she says, emphasizing the need to provide students with positive examples of conflict resolution during the Youth Violence Prevention Week.
National Youth Violence Prevention Week and National Youth Service Day: "A Natural Fit"
National Youth Violence Prevention Week concludes on Friday, April 11, 2003, which also kicks off National Youth Service Day, a weekend-long event sponsored by YSA intended to motivate young people, ages 5-25, to volunteer in their communities.
"It was a fortunate coincidence this year," says Director of National Youth Service Day, Karen Larson Daniel about her program's close connection to Youth Violence Prevention Week. "Dr. Riley first became aware of the overlap in dates and contacted us," she says. "We were excited about it because it's such a natural fit."
"Unite in Action," the theme of the last day of the Youth Violence Prevention Campaign, is a concept that is at the very core of YSA's mission to create and enhance volunteer opportunities for young Americans.
"What we're trying to do is drive people and traffic towards organizations that confront the problem of youth violence in America," YSA Communications Assistant Ryan Blackburn says about YSA's website that supplements National Youth Violence Prevention Week with volunteering opportunities.
"We never tell young people what kinds of projects they should be doing," adds Larson Daniel. "At the same time we know that there are a lot of issues that are universally important to young people and youth violence is one of them," she says.
If young people are interested in participating in National Youth Service Day, but have no particular project in mind, National Youth Violence Prevention Week offers them a perfect opportunity to become involved with a youth violence prevention cause, Larson Daniel says.
"We're really excited to be able to direct people to S.A.V.E. chapters," she adds.
S.A.V.E. welcomes the opportunity to involve more students in its attempt to raise awareness of youth violence, yet recognizes that the challenge is great.
"There is risk in life," says Riley. "S.A.V.E. is striving to decrease the potential for violence in our schools and communities."
For schools that wish to participate in National Youth Violence Prevention Week, comprehensive Action Kits with step-by-step guidelines to help them prepare are available on the campaign website at www.violencepreventionweek.org.
"Schools and communities [who participate in the campaign] will gain the opportunity to see what is happening in their school, what the safe school plans are, and how competent the school programs and actions are to ensure every student has a safe and secure learning environment," Riley says.
For more information about National Youth Violence Prevention Week, go to www.violencepreventionweek.org.
For more information about S.A.V.E., go to www.nationalsave.org.
For more information about YSA and National Youth Service Day, please contact Ryan Blackburn at 202-296-2992 ext. 26 or go to www.ysa.org or www.servenet.org.
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339