Saturday, March 17 , 2018, 2:16 pm | A Few Clouds 59º


Schools Play Lead Role in Preventing Youth Violence

Districts engaging multiple levels of community resources to keep students and campuses safe.

For almost a year, our community has been grappling with the subject of youth violence, beginning last March when a wave of stabbings began, two of them fatal. It shouldn’t happen here. It shouldn’t happen anywhere. But it has.

Prevention, intervention and enforcement are all necessary, but only through people working together will we solve the problem.

Our Santa Barbara School Districts’ efforts began long before the current rise of youth violence. For years we have worked with law enforcement in monthly gang task force meetings. The sheriff’s and police departments have provided school resource officers on our campuses. We have staff campus safety supervisors on secondary campuses and recently increased their salaries and provided new safety trainings.

We inform all students and their families of the school code of conduct, rules and consequences for negative behaviors, and our zero-tolerance policies. We communicate with parents in English and Spanish. Clear expectations and swift disciplinary actions are important and they support other strategies, such as reporting policies, linking students and families to school and community resources, and providing opportunities for dialogue and conflict resolution. Our board of trustees regularly updates policies on student conduct, student dress code, gangs, discipline, suspension and expulsion, nondiscrimination and harassment.

But people have always been key to our efforts. Our staff works to connect with students and engage them in classrooms, programs, clubs and activities. Every staff member knows that he or she shares the responsibility for monitoring and for action. As a result, our sites have been successful and we have had relatively few incidents on school campuses.

We have safe school committees and a staff incident response team at each school. We have provided staff trainings on gang awareness education; reduced truancy rates; encouraged staff and students to support diversity and equity awareness; implemented anti-bullying programs, character education programs, conflict resolution and peer mediation; and added a drug prevention program and other school-based activities to inform parents about gang issues, bring students together, and engage at-risk youth.

Youth violence will only be solved by caring people who embrace would-be gang members and direct them to better choices. We benefit from local programs that work directly with gang members. We have an ongoing collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League, Beyond Tolerance and Just Communities. We have youth services specialists from the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse’s Fighting Back program on our campuses and counselors from the Family Service Agency.

Fortunately, national experts on gang violence are here in the community and their work is important to our efforts. There are hundreds of youth-serving organizations throughout the community working to keep students productively involved in adult-led activities. Chief among them is the Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department, which does an outstanding job in providing after-school programs for youth and has created a jobs program.

Last March, within an hour of the fatal stabbing on State Street, I met with our secondary principals to eliminate upcoming minimum days; review our nontolerance of gang dress, gang symbols and gang behavior; authorize dog sweeps on an incident basis; prepare to meet the emotional needs of students; and plan meetings with law enforcement. The city immediately increased school resource officer support, expanded after-school and Police Activities League activities, and changed MTD bus routes.

Last spring, we stepped up efforts to work with community agencies and nonprofit organizations. We scheduled presentations by gang resource Richard Ramos, reaching thousands of students, parents and staff members.

This year, we reinstituted a new program for the few juveniles with multiple arrest records who are serious habitual offenders, and we secured probation officer presence on school campuses. The city has started a new partner program to bring more youth serving-organizations onto our campuses after school and provide increased job opportunities. We do not see guns on our campuses, but we continue to strengthen our safe school programs, including pursuing grants to hire gang prevention specialists and expand parenting programs.

We applaud the current city stakeholder meetings to foster improved communication, coordination and collaboration among the many organizations that serve at-risk youth.

We still have far to go. To be more successful, we believe we need people on the street working directly with those at the core of gang activity, the kids who are most susceptible to gang involvement, and their families. But we have tremendous community resources and we know that our collective determination to stem youth violence will prevail.

Dr. Brian Sarvis is superintendent of the Santa Barbara School Districts.

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