School Climate & Safety

Chicago Launches Anti-Violence Effort

By Bess Keller — September 21, 2007 2 min read

The Chicago school district has launched a major anti-violence campaign aimed at protecting students from dangers in their neighborhoods.

During the 2006-07 school year, 34 Chicago public school students were shot, stabbed, suffocated, or beaten to death—but none of those incidents occurred inside schools, according to district officials.

Officials linked the new effort to that violence, however, which included the most gun deaths for youths since the district began informally tracking those incidents nine years ago. At a kick-off for the campaign on Sept. 13, city schools chief Arne Duncan and Mayor Richard M. Daley called for tougher gun-control laws.

Mr. Duncan announced more than $25 million in new spending, about half in local funds, for the expansion of after-school programs and other measures aimed at keeping students out of gangs and reducing youth violence.

“Our schools have never been safer, and now we’re going to work hard at our schools and with the community to extend the safety net far beyond our campuses,” said the Chicago schools chief.

Mr. Duncan was accompanied by the parents of Blair Holt, who was killed May 10 by a bullet fired from inside the municipal bus carrying the 17-year-old Percy L. Julian High School student after school.

The 415,000-student district plans to add 40 more schools this year to the roster of 110 already serving as community centers. In partnership with outside agencies, “community schools” offer a variety of resources and services after school and on weekends, such as computer labs, health screenings, and student clubs.

A $5 million expansion of an after-school program to help students with reading, math, and science is expected to nearly double the 18,000 students now participating. The program typically runs for an hour four days a week and takes place in schools whose students are not eligible for free supplemental tutoring under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The district is adding a new after-school sports program for some 20,000 students in the elementary and middle grades at a cost of $1.5 million and is beefing up an existing athletics program.

Other Cities’ Efforts

Chicago school officials said the campaign will also include $14 million in federal funds over the next several years. Money from the federal office of safe and drugfree schools will pay for anti-violence programs for children in troubled neighborhoods and activities to fend off gang recruitment.

Chicago is one of five large districts—in addition to Baltimore, Milwaukee, Orange County, Fla., and Philadelphia—that split about $24 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to stem dropout rates and boost employability among high schoolers. Chicago will use some of that money for stepped-up efforts to help students succeed in 9th grade. It will also provide students who have been expelled from school or released from juvenile-detention centers the opportunity to get training in work skills and anger management.

Other urban districts have also announced new approaches to protecting students from violence.

In Los Angeles, for instance, police and schools will together examine crime data as it is generated as part of an effort to give students “safe passage” from their homes to schools in gang-ridden neighborhoods, said school district spokeswoman Hilda Ramirez.

In Philadelphia, according to district spokeswoman Amy Guerin, interim Superintendent Thomas M. Brady has focused on creating school cultures that are calm and supportive, with students getting help with problems before they become disruptive or violent.

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Research Librarian Rachael Holovach contributed to this story.

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