City students offer advice on keeping schools safe

October 23, 1992|By Mark Bomster and Melody Simmons | Mark Bomster and Melody Simmons,Staff Writers

Each day, thousands of Baltimore children head to school on streets where crime and violence lurk.

Officer John F. Jones, community relations officer with the city school police, knows the hazards the children face and explains them in terms that are easily understood.

"It's almost like coming through the dark woods," said Officer Jones. "On the way home, they have to go back through the woods.

"We're trying to make school the sanctuary at the end of the path."

The idea that schools can be sanctuaries was the theme of yesterday' system-wide "Safe Schools Summit." The event was punctuated by workshops and classroom discussions at all 177 city schools.

For a day, teachers at city schools suspended normal classes and challenged students to offer solutions to the problem of school crime and violence.

Last year, the school system logged more than 2,500 criminal offenses, including 44 gun incidents.

"Our schools need to be safer; the record speaks for itself," said Dr. Walter G. Amprey, school superintendent.

With little money to hire additional school police, officials are focusing on other approaches.

They include cooperation between school and city police and more attention to crime prevention, rather than arrests.

But Dr. Amprey also pledged to listen to the anti-crime suggestions generated by students throughout the city yesterday.

Here are a few of those student voices:

Harlem Park Middle School

Until this year, 14-year-old Oscar Jordan was on the fast track to dropping out of school.

"Last year, I didn't come to school, I missed 135 days," said Oscar, a tall seventh-grader. "I used to be in a lot of fights and gangs."

But a concerned, tough-talking teacher turned him around, persuading him to take charge of his life.

"I realized that I could accomplish a lot of things not hanging with that crowd," said Oscar, who plans to be an accountant. "I stay to myself, I do my work, I'm role model for the other, younger kids in my class."

He urged greater teacher involvement on a day when students throughout the city were proposing metal detectors and police as ways to cut school crime.

"Many, if not most, of the problems you see occurring in the school are community problems that come into the school with )) the children," said Principal Nicky Johnson.

She cited hall patrols, better cooperation with city police and extra security guards as ways Harlem Park is improving school safety.

Hampstead Hill Middle School

Urban warfare is nothing new to the students in Lucy Mills' sixth-grade reading class.

"I was standing on my front porch and these boys walked up with guns and started shooting," said John Bishop, an East Baltimore student. "I ran into my house and locked the door. When we were in the living room, we smelled gunsmoke."

Another student talked about hearing a bullet whine past her head while walking with a friend.

And last month, the entire school was evacuated after reports of an armed intruder.

Little wonder that metal detectors and more police ranked high on the list of student priorities.

But 12-year-old Andrea Corey, in an impassioned speech, urged fellow students to examine their own behavior.

"A lot of people like to talk with their fists," she said. "That doesn't solve anything, it just causes confusion."

Roland Park Middle School

Betty Jean Park's sixth-grade class at Roland Park Middle School was asked to draw pictures of violence at their school yesterday.

One by one, the 11- and 12-year-old children illustrated their fears: fights, pickpocketing, a student coming to school with a knife.

"They know and are very articulate about violence," Ms. Park said.

As part of the day-long safety summit, seventh graders suggested metal detectors, hall monitors and video cameras as safety solutions.

Principal Evelyn T. Beasley said her students work each day to make their school safe.

Last year's shooting of a school policeman at Roland Park is still fresh in the memories of some students and faculty, though they have worked to put it behind them.

As 17 fifth-grade safety patrol officers were sworn in yesterday, other students applauded.

"We are not afraid," said Allyson Ovcharek, 10, a patrol officer. "We feel that if we help people around the school, it's worth it."

Robert Poole Middle School

New students at this trouble-plagued Hampden school say they feel safe, despite past racial conflicts.

"I heard how the skinheads came in here and messed with . . . people. But I've found that's not true," said Shelly Connelly, 11, of Remington, who, like other students, feared coming to the school at first.

Said Albert Thompson, a sixth-grade teacher, "We have a reputation that we don't deserve."

In part, school officials credit a successful project by local lawyers who come to the school to help students resolve their differences through negotiation.

Yesterday, teachers at the school held seminars on safety, aimed at forming a safety plan.

"It's important to talk about violence so you can be aware of things in the community," said Tarajee King, 12.

"This is a good school. . . . The teachers help you and my classmates are helpful."

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