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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Unsafe: Schools in high-crime communities try to cope with violence

It's all on video: A mob of teenagers punches and kicks a 17-year-old boy in an alley near his Las Vegas high school. Jonathan Lewis, Jr., died of his injuries. Eight high school students aged 13 to 17 have been arrested for the murder, and police are seeking two more attackers.

The victim's father said he was standing up for a smaller friend who'd been robbed earlier in the week of headphones and a vape pen.

Shawn Jackson, 18, was shot and killed outside his graduation ceremony in Richmond, Virginia.

In Richmond, Virginia, schools are trying to prevent violence and help students deal with their grief, report Sabby Robinson, Hannah Natanson and Moriah Balingit in the Washington Post. "Almost 30 students have been shot to death in the last three years," and there were 22 children injured by gunfire and five shot to death in 2022 alone.

"Since 2020, guns have become the leading cause of death among children and teens, with Black youths dying in firearm homicides at the highest rates," the Post reports. "The pandemic made things worse, fueling a spike in violence: There were more school shootings in 2022 than in any year since 1999, according to a Washington Post database."

After a death, a district staffer, dressed like a teenager, attends the deceased student's classes to talk to their friends and direct them to mental-health services, they report. However, few students take advantage of trauma counseling.

Jaden Carter, 18, was a senior at Huguenot High when he was killed behind the baseball fields. Police say he shot a man he was trying to rob. The other man fired back in self defense, and was not charged.

That was in January. In June, moments after Huguenot's graduation ceremony, an 18-year-old graduate, Shawn Jackson, and his stepfather were shot to death. The boy had been taking classes at home to avoid retaliation for a murder allegedly committed by one of his friends.

Richmond’s strategy for student safety mixes school police officers with "trauma-informed" teachers, social workers, psychologists and counselors, reports the Post.

Under the new approach, Richmond converted spaces once used for student suspensions into “restorative rooms,” where children could go to calm down if they were disrupting class. It turned school security staffers into “care and safety associates,” dressing them in casual polos and tasking them with bonding with students. And the district launched daily “community circles” in which students share issues they are facing inside and outside the classroom.

Schools across the country are looking for ways to help students cope with their problems, report Robinson, Natanson and Balangit. The hope is that stressing empathy, relationships and coping skills will make schools and communities safer.

"Last year, Baltimore began hiring school-based 'violence interrupters,' staff trained to de-escalate conflict," they write. "New York City school officials are spending $15 million on a program that brings in neighborhood leaders to help stop student violence. And New Orleans is investing $10 million in school mental health after a survey found 54 percent of youth had experienced the murder of someone close to them."

A group of Hispanic immigrant mothers in a high-crime Los Angeles neighborhood want more police in schools to protect their children from violence, reports Aitana Vargas in Palabra.

María Sánchez is happy her children don't have to worry about gangs, fighting, vandalism and drugs in high school, writes Vargas. She has "peace of mind" because "her 22-year-old daughter is in college and her 18-year-old son is in the Army."

Yes, she feels he's safer in the Army than he was in high school.

1 Comment

Nov 20, 2023

If my kid were in that Vegas school, after I found out about what happened, my kid would never cross the threshold again. Whatever it took, they'd be home schooled or we'd find somewhere else.

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