New center aims to help curb school violence

One million dollars in federal money has been set aside to develop a center at the University of Louisville (UL) that will help find ways to end school violence.

The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence in Urban Schools was created when U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, a Republican whose 3rd District includes Louisville, approached Congress a year ago with the idea to try to end what she called “a complex problem” that couldn’t be answered with just gun control laws.

According to the National School Safety Center, 269 students have died on school grounds since 1992, including three at Paducah’s Heath High School in Kentucky. Of those, 207 were killed by guns and 37 with knives.

Congress allocated $500,000 on June 26 for the center, and lawmakers already had set aside another $500,000 when they approved its creation. Now, the money is starting to arrive, said Nancy Cunningham, director of the center and a faculty member in UL’s School of Education.

Cunningham and a team of six eventually will post information on causes and prevention of youth violence in urban schools on a web site designed to help teachers, principals, and others who work with urban youths.

The center’s team will get help from faculty members in related programs, including justice administration and art and sciences.

She said the center will take a close look at schools and their communities. Cunningham plans to pick five urban schools across the country to visit in order to assess risk factors and develop prevention plans.

Risk factors include low commitment to school, academic failure, and disruptive behavior, Cunningham said, and those factors start early in a child’s life.

“We want to assess them in all levels,” she said. “If you start in high school, it could be too late. We are going to work directly with the community, including community leaders and parents.”

Greg Abati, a specialist in behavior and discipline for Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools, said it is important to analyze what causes youth violence so the public can be educated on the issues. In the meantime, he said, Jefferson County administrators are being trained to detect warning signs among students.

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