Donnell Proctor stood before the state media and Governor Jeb Bush at a Tallahassee news conference. With the eloquence of the innocent, he asked those in attendance to bow their heads for a moment of silence. But 18-year-old Donnell, like all of us, is far from innocent. Last year at this time he was in jail for aggravated battery. But Donnell – well on the road of reform – stood before a crowd of PhDs and politicians and spoke passionately about the need for safer schools.
In his own words he echoed what has become very clear: the veil of safety around our schools has been torn apart. From the murders in Littleton to the shooting of a first-grader in Michigan, we've seen that the seeds of violence can grow in any school – rural or urban, small or large, upper class or working class.
According to a recent poll by Time magazine and the Discovery Channel, in conjunction with the National Campaign Against Youth Violence, fewer teens feel "very safe from violence" in schools today (33%) than shortly after the Columbine killings (42%). Parents are also concerned. A poll by USA Today, CNN and Gallup found that 63% of adults feel that an incident like Columbine could happen in their community. As a result of the school shootings, many parents (40%) feel much more concerned about their child's safety.
But let's be careful not to assume that schools are killing fields. The total number of incidents of youth crime are decreasing. Of crimes reported to police during the 1996-97 school year, only 10 percent of all public schools reported one or more serious violent crimes (rape, robbery, aggravated assault, etc.).
Nevertheless, we can't be complacent nor drop our guard. We need to envision and realize a solution that replaces six-o'clock news video of horrific scenes of violence with images of students taking action to make their schools safe. And students are ready to take responsibility for working toward that solution. A 1999 Gallup polls finds that America's teenagers are placing more of the blame for violence squarely on their own shoulders. When asked why the incident at Columbine happened, 56% of them said it was a result of peer issues or personal problems.
Not only are kids owning up to the responsibility, they're also taking action. For example, some of the Columbine survivors are partnering with community organizations to use their tragedy as a platform to reach kids in other communities. And students at King High School in Tampa have an award-winning conflict resolution program. Also seeing the need to foster student involvement, Family First has developed a comprehensive youth violence prevention program for middle and high schools called "Not In My School!" The program was launched at the same Tallahassee news conference where Donnell Proctor observed the anniversary of the Columbine shooting.
"Not In My School!" gives students a rallying point – a unity of purpose that helps create a sense of community within a student body. And since students are the common denominator in the youth violence equation, their involvement in the solution is crucial to the success of any safe-school plan. The Family First program provides a strong foundation built around four pillars: family/mentor involvement, character, conflict resolution and safe schools. With the support of those pillars, our students can legitimately hope for a peaceful learning environment--and heal the scars left behind by so many school tragedies.
Then maybe we'll hear the rally cries of our kids as they crusade against violence, instead of the cries of pain and anguish that violence so often leaves behind. Donnell Proctor put it well during his time in the spotlight, "We needs programs like this." Let's help him and our nation's other students make that a reality by giving them the tools to say "Not In My School!" and mean it.
Link to Manitoba Schools Not in My School Anti-bullying presentation
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