Truancy, violence targeted

January 21, 1995|By Gary Gately and Jean Thompson | Gary Gately and Jean Thompson,Sun Staff Writers

Broadening efforts to combat truancy and violence, Baltimore's school system is restoring at least 100 parent attendance monitors, expanding anti-violence courses, and training psychologists, social workers and counselors in conflict resolution.

Announcing the plans yesterday, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said concerns raised at last month's City Council hearing on school violence prompted him to review city programs.

"We really had to say, 'Wait a minute, let's hear what people are saying, let's look at what we're doing. Can we do more?' And the answer was, 'Yeah, we can do more,' " Dr. Amprey said.

The moves come after the school system reported a surge of violence during the last school year.

Reported gun incidents soared to the highest level in a decade during 1993-1994. The incidents -- assaults, robberies and possession of firearms -- rose 42.5 percent, from 47 in 1992-1993 to 67 last school year.

Meanwhile, attacks on students, teachers, other staff and school police officers climbed 14.7 percent, to 1,387. No fewer than 302 teachers and other staffers and 63 school police officers were assaulted in 1993-1994.

In one key program to address the truancy issue, Dr. Amprey proposed hiring at least 100 parents within the next few weeks to work as "attendance monitors" at schools. The monitors, who will work with parents and children to combat truancy, will be hired and trained at a cost of $50,000 for the remainder of this year as part of Project Independence, a state program that helps welfare recipients find jobs.

The school system had hired about 100 such monitors during the 1992-1993 school year, but because of a lack of money the slots were eliminated.

The monitors will provide a much-needed boost to anti-truancy efforts. Just three social workers, assisted by four case managers, now struggle to handle 2,000 chronic truants, who typically have missed anywhere from 35 days to more than a full school year. School officials have said as many as 15,000 youths are truant on a given school day.

Among other plans Dr. Amprey announced:

* Within the next two months, the district will open a "conflict-resolution center" at a school, yet to be

selected. At the center, financed with about $92,000 in federal grant money, students and adults from schools and communities throughout the city will be trained in ways to prevent violence by talking out disputes.

* Breakthrough Teams -- groups of clergy, social workers, psychologists and others -- will be restored. The teams had worked with students in schools and communities last school year but were scrapped because of a lack of money. About 30 people had worked on the teams last year. The new effort will begin with 10 people, working in five teams of two. Dr. Amprey said he expects grants to cover the cost.

* The district will expand use of "Straight Talk About Risks," an anti-violence curriculum recently started at Tench Tilghman Elementary in East Baltimore, to the other 19 elementaries in the southeast area. It is aimed at teaching nonviolent ways to resolve disputes, how to resist peer pressure, and how to distinguish between real-life violence and that seen on television.

Dr. Amprey said the schools reflect the ills of the communities surrounding them. The school system, he said, is trying to create a comprehensive, citywide effort to fight violence and truancy. "For many of our youngsters, school is the safest place in their lives," he said. "And while we feel good about that and we are proud of that, we don't want to use that as a defense mechanism or as a way to excuse away the need to continue to deal with the issues."

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