JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) – When it comes to youth violence, schools play a crucial role in prevention.
According to a 2019 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7% of high school students nationwide have been threatened or injured with a weapon one or more times.
Schools in northeast Arkansas are working with local law enforcement on youth social intervention.
A Jonesboro Police Officer, Corporal Sheridan Watts has been a School Resource Officer with the Nettleton School District for five years. He said the SRO program plays a vital role in this social intervention.
“There are days when we see the children more than their parents. So it’s just an opportunity for us, for them to get to know me, for me to get to know them,” Watts said.
Watts sees Nettleton High School students every day between classes, during lunch and during extracurricular activities. During these times, he works to build positive relationships and interactions.
“I hope we are just an asset and, as I said, a resource for students to turn to when they have questions. Where, you know, maybe they don’t have the ability to just wave to a police officer on the side of the road and ask them,” Watts said.
While developing positive relationships is key, Watts said her top priority is student safety.
He works with the school district on youth violence prevention.
“When someone asks you about gangs in schools, well, no one I’ve talked to says ‘Yes, I’m in a gang.’ It’s ‘I’m part of a family, I’m part of a band, I’m part of a rap group,’” Watts said.
According to the National Gang Center, about 11% of students in schools across the country have reported gang activity in their schools. Watts said activity could start early.
“When you start breaking down the data on who joins gangs and when, you see it as young as five, all the way up to 17,” Watts said. “You know, at some point, we can’t keep getting the kids out of the water. We need to go upstream and figure out why they keep falling.
For school officials, determining where children begin to struggle comes from these positive relationships.
Amy Reed is the social worker at Nettleton High School. She works closely with the school’s ORS to ensure that students receive the care they need.
“Sometimes if a student is involved in law enforcement, or if their family is involved in law enforcement, they let us know to kind of check on the student. To see if the student needs anything, let them know we’re here,” Reed said.
Reed said it’s also important that faculty and staff pay attention to their students and respond quickly to any concerns.
“If they feel like they’re making bad decisions, if we see them making bad decisions. If maybe they’re having trouble with law enforcement or they’re not getting their grades or they’re doing poorly,” Reed said. “I’ve worked with kids who have had, you know, issues, run-ins like that. Most of them have been very open and honest about it.
This responsibility rests with a student’s teachers and any faculty members that a student might see on a regular basis.
“If I know my students and see them a lot, you notice this change in attitude, you notice this change in behavior where it hasn’t been a problem, but now they’re constantly being written,” Watts said. . “Let’s find out what it is, what’s going on with this student. Is something happening at home.
To be as effective as possible in preventing violence, Watts said schools need to work with other districts and community organizations.
“It’s just a good relationship between our administration, their administration,” Watts said. “Myself and the other SROs, we talk almost daily about ‘Hey this student came to us from you guys, we kind of started seeing him get into some issues here, what was your relationship with him? “”
Another crucial step in prevention is participation outside the classroom.
“All children want to be part of something. And you always want to hope that’s in a positive way, but sometimes it’s just not the case,” Reed said. “So my thing is just to cheer at a young age. Or even if it’s not at a young age, you know it’s never too late to try and plug them into what interests them.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention says extracurricular activities take place during critical times when students may be unsupervised. They also provide positive role models and relationships that students can build.
Reed said the more positive influences a student has in their life, the less likely they will be to participate in violent or dangerous activities.
“I think the more people you can get involved in helping a student. The more a student has, I assume, on their team, the more successful they will be,” Reed said.
In addition to developing positive relationships and providing after-school options, Watts and Reed agree that ongoing education in schools and the community is needed to help prevent violence.
“Knowledge. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is key. you know that, the better off you will be.”
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