By Amanda Burdette
TOWSON – In the 1995-’96 school year, 23,647 students were suspended for physically attacking fellow students and 1,697 for attacking teachers, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.
These statistics grabbed the attention of the Maryland State Bar Association, which for its centennial celebration created “Imagine a Better Tomorrow,” a program to fight school violence.
The joint effort of teachers and attorneys was unveiled Tuesday during a press conference at Sheppard Pratt Conference Center attended by students, teachers and administrators from 12 middle schools.
Lesson plans for “Imagine a Better Tomorrow” were developed by the bar association’s Ellery M. “Rick” Miller Jr. and Donna Novak, a Baltimore County teacher.
The program focuses on peer mediation — in which students counsel one another — and conflict resolution, Miller said.
Lessons use two public service announcements to generate conversation among students and teachers. One PSA shows a coffin filled with tennis shoes, a jacket and a baseball glove, asking what the items have in common. The answer: “We are killing each other for them.”
Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said at the press conference that using money to fight school violence is not always the best solution.
“We spend a lot of money on this issue. Maryland is the fifth state in money spent per capita on criminal justice. But we are not getting our money’s worth,” Curran said.
He suggested cutting down on children’s viewing of violent television. “We can do this now and it does not cost a lot,” Curran said.
Studies including one last year by the American Medical Association show that a child views 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on TV by the time he leaves elementary school, he said.
Curran suggested supporting after-school programs where students can be “active with their peers” in a “creative and enriching” atmosphere.
A student in the audience, from Edgewood Middle School in Harford County, raised concern that after-school programs were too expensive.
Stuart Simms, secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice, recommended joining Boys and Girls Clubs or the YMCA. “There are a number of federal grants to minimize the fee,” he said.
Teacher Wanda Hebron, who works in the attitude adjustment center at Baltimore’s Highlandtown Middle School, said her school is “in an area high in crime and violence. The community seeps into the schools.”
To combat problems, she said, the school trains students in peer mediation, which she called effective. “The kids enjoy each other,” she said.
In addition, Hebron said, “The last three to four years there has been a after-school program that is divided into a homework hour and an hour of clubs.”
The program, funded by the school system, met three days a week for two hours each day. An expanded program focussing on math will meet an extra day and an extra hour each day.
Hebron said her school plans to use “Imagine a Better Tomorrow” to further expand the school’s violence education program. -30-