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School Violence Prevention Strategy

Service Learning--A School Violence Prevention Strategy

Educators, school staff and administrators, and--most important--students agree that school violence represents a real threat to school safety and can deprive students--and teachers--of a safe and productive learning environment.

According to "Service-Learning: An Education strategy for Preventing School Violence," schools can address this problem as part of the educational agenda. They can provide meaningful educational structures that young people recognize on their own terms. They can offer students emotional as well as academic support, establish clear guidelines defining what behaviors are appropriate and which are not, and develop restorative responses to misconduct.

Alienated and disaffected students sometimes feel that they exist separate from their school and community, that they are different, that no one cares about them, and that it doesn't matter if they live or die. By grouping alienated and disaffected students with more motivated students and teachers, volunteers, school resource officers, and other adult mentors, service-learning projects can foster shared goals, objectives, and activities that can counteract all-too-familiar alienated, "nobody cares" attitudes.

By working together in service-learning projects designed to address real school and community problems, motivated and alienated students alike can engage in cooperative learning. Well- planned and -supervised, service-learning projects can help students develop new and useful skills, attitudes, and behavior. By interacting with groups and individuals outside their peer groups and subcultures, students may model new behaviors from positive role models they can respect on their own terms.

By allowing students to participate in the planning and implementation of service-learning projects, schools can encourage students to "buy in," to activities that demonstrate genuine value and offer opportunities for success to young people who are used to feeling helpless and uncared for, unsuccessful, and, therefore, uncaring.

The National School Safety Center (NSSC) has developed a useful white paper, "Working Together to Create Safe Schools." According to the NSSC, a comprehensive school safety plan should include "an ongoing process that encompasses the development of district-wide crime prevention policies, in-service training, crisis preparation, interagency cooperation, and student/parent participation."

Obviously, no single classroom, or even service-learning team should anticipate implementing a comprehensive set of school-safety strategies and objectives. Within an overall school-safety plan, however, there are many strategies that can be generated from classroom work to culminate in do-able service-learning projects.

The following school-safety strategies serve as guidelines for teachers and students to choose, plan, and implement practical, classroom-based, school safety service-learning projects.*


School Safety Projects: Place School Violence on the Education Agenda

Have students create materials and presentations designed to persuade the student body, the principal, superintendent, and school board that quality education requires safe, disciplined, and peaceful schools. Stress the notion that school safety is a community concern requiring a community response.

  • Develop and suggest school-wide procedures for dealing with specific school-safety crises that occur in your school. Look for methods to advocate the safety of students and school personnel.
  • Create a school-safety clearing house in your school library. Feature up-to-date literature and other data on school safety. Topics might include: school-based crime and violence, causes of school violence, drug abuse, vandalism, weapons, child abuse, security measures, or school discipline.
  • Have students consult with teachers and administrators to design and distribute a school-safety brochure. Useful information might include: types of school crime and violence, response techniques, contact information for reporting incidents ("Incident Reporting System" below), and more.
  • Help school administrators implement reporting systems on incidents of school crime and violence and discipline or security problems.
  • Develop and maintain a school safety bulletin board. Provide updated statistics on school crime and violence incidents at your school, attendance and dropout rates, incidents of vandalism and their costs. Compare your school crime and violence rates with those reported by local, state, and national juvenile-justice agencies.
  • Form a school-safety student-advisory group. Work with school administrators, school boards, and the PTA to create a forum on school crime, violence, and safety. Bring in outside resource people from law enforcement, the juvenile justice system, social-service professionals, parents, and the media.
  • Form a student-leadership group that gathers representatives from student-body organizations. Use them to form a student safety committee to identify school safety problems and solutions.
  • Support America's Safe Schools Week. The third week in October is designated as a Safe Schools week. This would be an appropriate time to introduce any of the school-safety projects listed above.
  • Create a student court to address student violations of school-safety laws. Called youth courts, these courts often include student judges, lawyers, jurors, bailiffs and court clerks. For more information on student courts, visit the Federal Youth Court Program web site.
  • Develop a "buddy system" that pairs current students with newcomers to help them become acquainted with the school. Older students can also mentor smaller, younger students who may be vulnerable to bullying.

Additional strategies and methods to partner with school boards, school staff, students, parents, service organizations, business, government and community leaders, law enforcement professionals, and the media can be found on the National School Safety Center web site.