Violence Prevention Strategy Could Redefine Philadelphia High School Safety

Violence prevention strategy could redefine Philadelphia high school safety

Kevin Rosa’s office at Bartram High School is a place where students in the school’s Youth Violence Reduction Initiative can go when they’re involved in a conflict or just need a break, according to an article in Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

As the program coordinator, Rosa juggles myriad responsibilities. He helps students finish their schoolwork before they play video games or record rap tracks. If they have an unexcused absence from school, he visits their homes. Some of the students have been through the juvenile justice system, and some have violent incidents in their records.

“There’s a lot of things that we know that idle time does, so we try to fill the idle time, try to reinforce positive behaviors,” Rosa said.

The Youth Violence Reduction Initiative is the Philadelphia school district’s latest attempt to secure safer futures for the teens most at risk of engaging in violence. The one-school pilot is Philadelphia’s version of a national set of strategies used in other cities that include one-on-one mentoring, group counseling sessions, tutoring, and — when needed — law enforcement supervision.

The effort began about a year ago and district leaders say it’s Philadelphia’s first formal, evidence-based violence reduction initiative inside a school. If it succeeds, the initiative could redefine safety on the city’s highest-risk campuses.

Violence is an ongoing and urgent issue in Philadelphia, including for its young people. About 10% of the more than 1,500 victims of fatal and non-fatal shootings in 2023 were under the age of 18, according to city officials.

Twelve Bartram High students have been victims of gun violence since the start of the 2020 school year, the district said.

The school district has tried placing police officers in neighborhoods near schools, on campus perimeters, and launching a program to train teens to settle their own arguments. But the violence reduction pilot Rosa works in represents a different approach.

The pilot is staffed by Rosa, two case managers, a full-time research assistant, and a project director from the Office of School Safety.

While students are identified by the district as being at risk for involvement in violence, they can choose to join — no students are placed there, nor are they required to join. Instead, it’s an option for those who feel they’re at risk and want extra mentorship and support. Although all the students in the initiative at Bartram High are male, female students can also participate.

The Bartram High pilot involves a multidisciplinary team of counselors, psychologists, and external community partners. That team meets weekly to discuss individual student cases and any serious incidents of violence.

Rosa and his team sometimes must look beyond their own resources to stem violence. For example, if a student tells him they’ve been threatened, especially if there’s a gun involved in the threat, he must activate the Threat Assessment Protocol.

If a student in the violence reduction initiative receives a threat involving a gun, two Threat Assessment Liaisons will speak with the student who was threatened, try to identify whoever made the threat, and request support from police as needed.

Bartram staff also bring in community organizations to resolve specific conflicts. For example, Rosa noticed an uptick in fights between female students last school year and went to a Philadelphia organization called the Conscious Queens Wellness Workshop for Girls of Color that specializes in boosting girls’ self-esteem.

The Youth Violence Reduction Initiative will continue at Bartram under the current grant until October 2025. The district has already received funding from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to expand it to a second school beginning in the fall.

The district aims to find additional funding to do a longitudinal study of the violence reduction initiative’s participants over six or seven years.

“If this program was in every school, it would just help everybody see the bigger picture,” one student said.

He said Rosa taught him how to calm down, control his temper and focus on schoolwork.

“He gave me motivation to do my work,” said a second student. “At one point I didn’t believe in myself, and he believed me.”

Chalkbeat Philadelphia

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