Steve Kelly decided that instead of being angry and bitter over the murder of his older sister four years ago, he would channel his energy into something constructive.
In several weeks, fellow students at C. Milton Wright High School will spend two weeks studying about fighting crime and assisting crime victims. Steve played a role in creating the program, which will be part of a life-skills class.
If the pilot program is successful, the county Board of Educationplans to require the class to be taught in the other eight high schools. Sponsors of the program hope the state Board of Education eventually will require it in Maryland high schools.
Steve hopes that one day his program will be used across the nation.
"I saw in my case, as well as the other victims that I encountered, that there are preventable types of crimes," said Steve. "We have a life-skills unit that deals with contemporary issues, and preventing people from being victimized by crime is one of the most important skills we can teach."
Steve's introduction into coping with crime began on April 11, 1988. That's when his sister, Mary Frances Kelly, 28, a divorced mother of two children, was reported missing after failing to return home after a date. Five months later her remains were found in a heavily wooded area outside of Bel Air.
The murder has yet to be solved.
Steve was 14 at the time, and her death left a tremendous void in his life. In order to cope, he decided to devote his energies to activities that could make a positive difference in people's lives.
"Shewas a very motivated person," Steve recalled. "If she had seen the need, she would have acted. I decided to do something to keep her legacy alive."
Even though he was a teen-ager, Steve helped start a crime victim's support organization for Harford residents, and he learned as much as he could about victim's rights.
But Steve wasn't satisfied that his efforts would have an effect. He felt he needed to domore.
Steve wanted people, especially his fellow teen-agers, to realize that in order to stem the rise in crime eroding the quality oflife in America, people have to take action.
Instead of being passive players and leaving crime prevention to police, the courts and the prisons, Steve believed people have to be taught how to avoid becoming crime victims.
He approached Thomas Dubel, the principal of C. Milton Wright, about developing a victim's rights program. Dubel was enthusiastic but he was distracted by other administrative duties. Last year, Dubel died suddenly.
His replacement, Christina Reynolds, also like Steve's idea and asked Richard Post, an experienced social studies teacher, to work with him.
"It was very refreshing to work with Steve," said Post, who has been teaching for 25 years. "There are a number of kids in the schools that want to contribute but don't know how to."
Kelly contacted national victim's rights organizations, officials in the county Sheriff's Department, the National Crime Prevention Council in Washington and the U.S. Department of Justice.
He spent last summer with the NCPC as an intern developing a detailed lesson plan. In an effort to develop contacts, Steve participated in regional and national conferences. He rounded up financial support in the community to pay for his travel.
Adults who have worked with Steve are impressed by his maturity and composure.
"Steve is very persistent and unrelenting," said Post. "Teen-agers have a lotof abilities, and we as adults have to encourage them to to use them. Steve also learned that adults don't function the way teen-agers would like them to function. He learned a lot about dealing with adults."
Steve did not meet with success all the time. Sometimes adults rebuffed his efforts or refused to go along with his plans.
"Therewere many times when I was burned, but I learned a lesson each time I was burned," said Steve.
Out of his efforts came a five-part lesson plan that covers the nature of crime in America, crime prevention, personal and community crime prevention strategies, victim assistance and the criminal justice system.
The curriculum asks students to think about how crime affects their lives and how being afraid of crime can be as harmful as crime itself.
While the curriculum is oriented toward victim's rights, it does include a section on the history of criminal laws in the United States and how the Bill of Rights calls for the protection of the defendant's rights.
"We intend to give both sides. I think we are very fair about that," said Steve, whosaid the lesson plan intentionally brings up vexing moral and ethical questions in the American criminal justice system.
Steve feels strongly that teen-agers need to know about crime, because too many ofthem are victims.
"They are victims of domestic assault, robbery,murder and date rape. Crime awareness should be a big part of their daily routine, and the school is one one place where they can learn these life skills," Steve said.
Teen-agers must also learn to stickto their convictions. "They have to believe in themselves," Steve said.
Steve said he has a collection of maxims that he copied on index cards. He reads them every morning when. There is one he considersto be the most important principle: "Only I can can control my success."
He plans to attend college and perhaps law school. His ambition is to become a prosecutor. "Whatever I do, I know that it will have something to do with victim's rights," Steve said.
Post said themessage that Steve's fellow high school students should get is simple enough: "A fellow student moved the system. It can be done. There are a lot of kids out there capable of doing very positive things. Steve is a good example of it."