Leadership Section

“Neighborhood violence may simply be a proxy for neighborhood disadvantage or poverty.”

-Milam, Furr-Holden and Leaf

Problem:
Violence in Impoverished Schools

“Violence Prevention Alliance.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 16 Nov. 2018, www.who.int/violenceprevention/en/.

Violence is more likely to occur in impoverished schools where it has been normalized in their communities. The effects of violence on impoverished schools are disproportionately affecting minorities. The social structure of violence within their neighborhoods and in the media that they consume contribute to their views of the world as a violent place. Furthermore, when youth associate with peers while forming their sense of identity and to increase their senses of self-worth, the peer groups that result increase the chances of tension between groups and thus the likelihood of committing violent acts. Exposure to and engagement in violent acts create a barrier to education for these students. The effects of school violence then reinforce the community risk factors, which ultimately places inner-city high schools at a disadvantage in their future contributions to society. It deprives students in these schools the possibility of having a growth mindset. I would like to address the problem in the high school where I was placed for field. The school culture and normalization of violence and the way that the school currently addresses the problem, punitive consequences for the few “deviant students,” has lead for me to believe that it is indeed a problem. My Key Insight, the social work value dignity and worth of a person extends to all individuals, also reinforces that it is a problem that needs to be addressed. In serving a community, it is important to address the problems present in the community.
Solutions to Address the Problem

Garber, Richard I. “What Is a Communication Pyramid?” What Is a Communication Pyramid?, 1 Jan. 1970, joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/10/what-is-communication-pyramid.html.

In addressing the problem of violence, it is important to build relationships between staff and students in order to build a sense of community. The lack of school pride, healthy student-adult relationships, and sense of community all contribute to how students view the school environment and their expectations towards it. Many of the students at this school have expressed that their problems with the school lie primarily with the teachers, a majority of who do not seem to respect the students nor care about their education. Wolfe, Jaffe and Crooks (2006) explain that “the majority of violence is inherently relational in nature” (p. 201). Poor relationships lead to violence and fostering healthy ones can alleviate its presence. Wolfe, Jaffe and Crooks (2006) suggest that “changing the norms and climate about relationships and providing students and teachers with the skills to foster healthy relationships is the most viable way to shift from a crisis orientation to one of prevention in response to school violence and similar concerns” (p. 201). According to Reisch (2002), the first two of four criteria that need to be met to achieve social justice are belonging and humanity, which posit that people should be treated as humans to be worked with and not on. Therefore, in addressing the problem of violence in schools, it will be important to include promoting a sense of belonging to the community and ownership in the goings-on of the community in order to create a safe space for the students. Based on this knowledge, the following table includes some suggestions with the influence of my Key Insights.

Insight 1: Building rapport requires the use of interpersonal skills that express to a client that the practitioner is there to help.

Building rapport is an important prerequisite to the helping process. Teachers and administrators in a school are there to serve the students. They should put effort into building solid relationships with the students to promote a healthier school culture, a better outlook about school for the students, and a stronger sense of community within the school. Teachers and administrators can be reminded that they are there to serve the students and that they are stakeholders in the structures that surround students that shape their behavior. Teachers, administrators and coaches could serve as the role models in the lives of the students if they so choose. This begins with the one-on-one interactions that they have with the students. Their tones and messages that they use with the students are things that affect the students even when the students express otherwise in the moment. By being aware of this, they could put effort into being more aware of the way that they speak to students.

Insight 2: The Social Work value "dignity and worth of a person" extends to all individuals.

Teachers and administrators should be educated about the effects of labeling theory, which posits that when people label another group of people with certain terms, the latter group will begin to associate those labels with themselves, and act based on that sense of self, even if the labels were once untrue (Crossman, 2018). Moffitt suggests that “people become criminals when labeled as such and when they accept the label as a personal identity.” When teachers and administrators repeatedly label the students as being “bad,” the students behave in ways that are expected of them and the stigma attached has negative consequences for them as they move through their years in school. Reports from their middle school may say negative things about them and the teachers from their high school have those ideas in mind upon initial engagement with the students.

Instead, teachers and administrators should treat students with dignity and worth. They should be willing to learn about the students firsthand. Even if they do not have the solid relationships with every single student, they should be able to treat the students with respect. While it is neither feasible nor imperative for a teacher to learn about the lives of all her students, she should be willing to understand that her students are human, facing a multitude of challenges. When a student acts out, there is often a reason behind it. Too often, a minor slight between a teacher and student, or two students, escalates into a violent encounter that could have been avoided had the parties shown each other respect.

Insight 3: Professionals should be aware of personal values and professional ethics to avoid engaging in unethical behavior.

The first principle in the Code of Ethics of the Education Profession is commitment to the student. Teachers should consider their own values and goals that they wish to achieve in being a teacher. They should be aware of their code of ethics and they should try to understand the values of students. Teachers and students alike value respect, but in most cases, neither party is willing to be the first to give it.

Detailed 
Plan

The first step to addressing the problem would be to bring the staff together to identify violence as a problem in the school that needs the attention and combined effort of all the individuals in the school community. Once that has been established, individual’s morale needs to be increased so that there is not a sense of helplessness towards the problem. This can be achieved by people understanding that they are not alone in thinking that change needs to happen. When people come to this understanding, they will not feel that it is a problem that they have to tackle on their own and that it cannot be done.

As for the students, they will feel that they have power to make change when they feel that they are being heard. Students will be included in the process and their concerns about teachers and policies will be addressed. The students believe that the punishments are not fitting of the deviant behaviors, that the dress code is too strict, and that the short duration of the lunch period is what causes the tardies to the period after lunch and the behavior issues that come with it. These are just a few of the many concerns that students have. Students are given the opportunity to voice their concerns to administration through the presentation that they make in the small groups. When the small changes are made, the students begin to feel that they are not being targeted by teachers and and administrators.

The lack of school activities is found to be one of the reasons that students engage in other activities that lead to a variety of other problems and that lower their perception of risk. These other problems lead to the engagement in risky behaviors and loss of having a growth mindset. Thus, the normalization of violence in their communities lead youth to feel a hopelessness about their situation that deprives them of having values and goals. One suggestion for reducing the amount of violence in school then, can be to have pro-social activities for students to engage in. These activities should promote a growth mindset in the students. Suggestions for the school include starting a dictionary club to enhance their vocabulary, with competitions and awards, and a black history club, with presentations prepared throughout the year for the Black History Celebration held in Februaries. A variety of teachers can mentor each of these clubs. The discussion around the formation of these clubs and the distribution of these titles can be done during a staff meeting.

I also believe that giving students the opportunity to work as a teacher’s assistant will allow the students and teachers to work together and the students something productive to do with their time. This is a suggestion that I will make to the principal in a meeting that I will have with her with my supervisor. I will also push for events like pep rallies and dances to take place more frequently to build the sense of school pride. Based on previous years, the staff believe that these events give students the opportunities to break out into fights, but they should treat each group of students with dignity and respect by not having preconceived notions about them just because of a few students that were there before. I also wish to advocate for fair-like events that have booths that provide a variety of student needs based on what they have mentioned in the small group that took place on, making change within the school. This will include a station that teaches students how to do their taxes, and a food stand that teaches students about eating healthy, among others. This needs the approval of principal first, who is very open to suggestions, which can easily be discussed whenever we have a meeting with her. Then the event will be discussed at the staff meeting. Key stakeholders within the school will be identified, and local businesses that could potentially contribute to the fair will be contacted. The personal finance teacher could lead the booth on taxes and a local family owned restaurant could the booth on eating healthy.

Evaluation

The South Carolina Department of Education distributes to schools an annual report card that is comprised of the academic performance of the students as well as the school environment as a whole. Some portions of these report cards are aspects of the school that speak to students’ sense of belonging, which reflects school community. These components include school quality, classroom environment, and student safety. School quality, in particular, is based on questions of student engagement, perceptions and beliefs associated with school and learning, as well as attendance, positive conduct, effort, communication, and attitudes towards school, learning, teachers, and peers. Some portions also encompass how the teachers view the school; as they are one side to the relationships that are trying to be built in the school, it is important that their sense of school community be assessed as well. To evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions described above, this data can be compared to the data obtained for the next academic school year and the years to follow.

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