Student anti-violence programs succeeding, schools chief says

Violence Free Zones at Bladensburg, Largo may spread to all county high schools, Deasy says

Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006

A pilot program that uses adult mediators to help stop student violence has shown promise at Bladensburg and Largo high schools, so Prince George’s Schools CEO John Deasy wants to replicate it in all county high schools.

The program, called Violence Free Zones, comes from a nonprofit group called the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE) that operates nationwide in schools that struggle with student behavior.

‘‘Our goal is to fund an expansion systematically over time,” Deasy said of the school system’s partnership with the enterprise. ‘‘We want to start at the high schools with the most need, but this would be appropriate at all the high schools.”

Advisors, who have grown up in the same communities as the high school students they serve, come into the high schools as hall monitors, cafeteria attendants and mentors to students. These adults can provide support to students struggling with behavior and academic issues.

‘‘It starts by us just going up to them and saying ‘hello,’” said Kyana Bradley, one of the volunteers at Bladensburg High School.

‘‘A lot of them [the students they help] are going through a lot of stress in the homes. We’ve had gang members come up to us and say they don’t want to be in the gangs anymore. The next day, they come back and say they dropped out of the gang.”

CNE head Robert Woodson said the volunteers are positive role models for youth. They steer students toward the help they need from the school system and toward positive activities before the youths make bad decisions.

‘‘You can’t just tell young people what not to do,” Woodson said. ‘‘You’ve got to tell young people what to do ... in order to maintain peace. Sometimes, young people’s minds might be closed to advice, but their hearts are open to example.”

At Bladensburg, the advisors have helped stop gang fights before they started and assisted teachers in getting control of rowdy classrooms at least 20 times since starting their duties in August.

Deasy said suspensions at Bladensburg dropped significantly this school year in large part because of the advisors. In October 2005, there were 108 suspensions for disruptive behavior; last month, that number dropped to 58.

‘‘These youth have a strong connection to this program,” he said.

The program started at Largo High School in September, and youth advisors there have already helped cut down on students socializing and taking cell phone calls in class.

Complete data on the effectiveness of these two pilot programs was still being collected, but State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey noted there was a significant drop in some crime attributed to youth in the neighborhoods where the programs operate.

‘‘I’d love to see the data, but my gut tells me we’re moving in the right direction,” Ivey said.

The program has cost $300,000 for each school, according to Woodson.

E-mail Guy Leonard at