Teaching students alternatives to violence and improving their access to mental health services are among the best ideas officials say they have for preventing the kind of bloodshed that has struck a long list of schools, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Researcher Manny Sethi, an orthopedic trauma surgeon and a Vanderbilt assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation said, from anti-bullying and zero-tolerance initiatives to metal detectors and programs that allow students to report threats anonymously, schools have embraced a variety of measures to keep schools safe.
But some simply don't work, Dr. Sethi said. After reviewing data on 27 programs, he and his team decided to pilot one of them -- designed by Harvard psychologist Ron Slaby -- in a violence-plagued Nashville middle school.
Before the study, the students completed questionnaires regarding their beliefs about violence and ability to manage volatile situations. Over several weeks, students used role-playing to learn how to avoid violence at heated moments, such as when one student calls another a name or hits on a peer's girlfriend.
Dr. Sethi said the exercises helped students "build the machinery of understanding conflict and how it progresses and how to get yourself out of it."
On a second questionnaire, administered after the exercises, students reported that they were less likely than before to be a target of bullying, less likely to hit or push others, less likely to cheer if a fight broke out and more likely to try to defuse a potential altercation. Some of the improvements were statistically significant, while others fell below that threshold.
Alicia Chico, a social worker with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, said strategies are available for training staff and identifying troubled students. But, she said, teachers are often too busy to deal with the issues.
"This has to start with who is interacting with students the most and that is the teacher. But a lot of times these issues aren't addressed because teachers have so many things they have to get done and so many constraints on them," Ms. Chico said.
Cirecie West-Olatunji, president of the American Counseling Association, agreed that more training and consultation with mental health professions is needed for classroom teachers. In addition, she said, counselors, social workers and school psychologists should be given time to walk the halls of schools and develop relationships with students and their families.
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