National conference addresses school violence issues



    National experts on school violence say understanding and identifying the risk factors causing violence in schools helps teachers and parents to help prevent it.

    The experts addressed the subject of school violence Tuesday as part of a nationwide teleconference. Comprehensive Prevention Planning, part two in the three part series Lessons Learned: Breaking the Cycle of Violence, suggested ways to help educators plan to prevent violence in schools.

    Claudio Sanchez, education correspondent for National Public Radio, said most children start school with the hope that they can become anything. But, when violence exists extensively in schools, that hope turns to hopeless.

    When students don’t have skills to handle fear and frustration, some turn to violence, Sanchez said. Teachers should be ready for such situations, he said.

    Sanchez said he recommends forming a team that tries to understand the current safety issues in the school. The team would analyze the issues, collect data, brainstorm improvements, implement the betterment and then evaluate the outcomes.

    Sanchez said teams should remember to follow-up on current situations and not to let issues fall.

    However, Dr. Edward Zigler, professor at Yale University and co-founder of Head Start, said schools should realize they don’t have to do everything alone.

    Zigler said his program, Head Start, will train schools to reduce levels of violence.

    He said every dollar invested into stopping violence now, will save seven dollars used to stop violence in the future.

    Zigler said early child care will reduce levels of violence in schools.

    “Schooling begins at birth,” he said.

    He also said some children have characteristics from birth that help protect them against problems even if they are exposed to risk. Teachers should understand these protective factors to encourage reduction of violence and to help students feel safe in school.

    “Protective factors hold the key to understanding how to reduce those risks and how to encourage positive behavior and social development,” Zigler said.

    Protective factors include individual characteristics, gender, resilient temperament, outgoing temperament and intelligence, he said.

    The conference highlighted a middle school in Poughkeepsie, New York. The middle school has decreased violence significantly in the last two years.

    “It’s challenging every day, but it is clearly possible to maintain a safe school environment,” said Robert Watson, principal of the Poughkeepsie Middle School.

    Watson said one way he has reduced violence in the school was to be out of his office and among the students.

    “Get up and get out. Immerse yourself in the people,” Watson said.

    He also said schools should involve the community. Involvement of parents is the key to a non-violent school, Watson said.

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