A new initiative launched March 6 by the Chicago Public Schools aims to cut down on bullying and other violent behavior in the city’s schools. The $3 million program also will help students returning to the school system from jails, detention centers, or psychiatric facilities adjust to normal school life without disrupting the learning environment, district officials said.
The two-pronged initiative, dubbed C.A.R.E. (Creating a Respectful Environment), focuses on assessment and educational recommendations for students being released from correctional facilities and for those with chronic disciplinary problems, and it establishes special evaluation and intervention teams to make each school climate safer.
The C.A.R.E. program will be fine-tuned in 10 pilot schools this year. Feedback from the pilot schools will help the program expand accordingly next year. It has not yet been decided which 10 schools will begin the program.
“Chicago is very much into preventive measures,” said Joyce Bristow, academic prep center and middle school officer for Chicago Public Schools and creator of the C.A.R.E. program. All of the city’s middle and high schools have walk-through metal detectors, she said, and all have zero-tolerance policies toward violent behavior. Now, they will have access to additional resources as well.
Each month, about 550 juveniles are released from the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, about 200 are released from the Cook County Jail, and nearly 50 are released from other state correctional facilities, district officials said.
The first prong of the program, the assessment process, will determine whether these students are capable of successfully returning to a regular school environment, based on the students’ ability to perform academically and socially without disrupting the normal school climate.
Students identified as “high-risk” (those who have exhibited violent behavior in the past, for example, or those with substance abuse problems) will receive additional counseling and will be reevaluated periodically to determine whether they are ready to return to a traditional school setting, or whether alternative schools are better able to serve their needs.
Options available for these high-risk students who are deemed not ready to return to a regular school environment include:
- Healy North, a high school for students ages 15 to 21 who are on parole or probation;
- Youth Connection Charter School, a high school for dropouts ages 16 to 21; and
- Specialized schools for students with profound emotional and behavioral disabilities who require separate day-school placement.
School evaluation and intervention teams make up the second component of the program. Two different types of school teams will be implemented: “climate” teams (one for each of the Chicago Public Schools’ six regions), which will evaluate each school and make safety recommendations, and “C.A.R.E.” teams (one for each individual school), which will act as advisors to students who might need more direct contact.
Climate teams–consisting of Chicago Public Schools security personnel, school patrol officers, and local law enforcement agencies–will investigate how an entire school is run, looking at factors such as teacher vacancies, security, and organization. These teams then will make recommendations to the principal and outline follow-up strategies for keeping the school safe. C.A.R.E. teams, consisting of youth outreach workers, student intervention specialists, and members of the religious community, will mentor students who are deemed bullies, gang members, or prospective gang members.
Sue Gamm, the school system’s chief specialized services officer, said such mentors are needed because school psychologists and social workers spend most of their time with special education students. The idea is that “students will feel comfortable coming to [C.A.R.E. team members] and telling [them], ‘I have a problem’ or ‘I overheard a problem,'” Bristow said. “That will do better than any metal detector.”
Together, the teams will address each school’s climate and initiate preventative measures aimed at maintaining a safe environment, while discouraging gang activity and bullying, in order to create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning.
Students who exhibit chronically disruptive behavior–including bullying and frequent suspensions–may be routed out and sent to mandatory Saturday classes, during which they will learn stress management, conflict resolution, moral values and beliefs, and anger management. Students are mandated to go four Saturdays in a row, with their parents accompanying them to two of those four sessions.
A ‘Necessary’ Program
The Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third largest school district and the second largest employer in Illinois, operates 601 schools and serves 435,000 students. The school system is divided into six regions, with each region consisting of at least 75 schools. By next year, when the C.A.R.E. program is running at full force, each region will have one climate team. For the remainder of this year, there are four teams covering the six regions.
While there was no specific incident that prompted the formation of C.A.R.E.–in fact, there has been a significant reduction in the number of violent incidents within the district in the past five years, thanks to enhanced security measures as well as counseling and intervention programs in the schools–it is clear to Bristow that the program is a necessary one.
“Seventy-five percent of students who commit violent crimes in school tell someone their plans before they carry them out,” she said. She cited the need to create an involved community in each school, one in which children feel they have a caring group of people to turn to in times of crisis. “If we listened closely,” she said, “we could have prevented some of this” violence that has occurred in places such as Santee, Calif., Littleton, Colo., and other locations.
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