City dedicates program aimed at reducing violence New center to focus on resolving conflicts

January 05, 1996|By Kalee Thompson | Kalee Thompson,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The city opened the door to its newest effort to prevent violence in schools and neighborhoods yesterday, showing off a classroom brightly decorated with children's inspirational drawings and messages about ending violence.

"This marks an important new chapter in the history of the city of Baltimore public schools," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said in a speech preceding the dedication of the Baltimore School and Community Conflict Resolution Center.

"Our school system made significant progress this year; we still have a long way to go, but we're on the right road and we're moving ahead."

Funded by a federal grant, the center was developed by the city's public schools and the Mayor's Coordinating Council on Criminal Justice. It is in the Professional Development Center in the 2500 block of E. Northern Parkway.

Although schoolchildren are the primary focus of the center, it is designed to serve the larger community as well, with referrals and library services.

For schools, the center hopes to expand peer mediation, in which students study anger management, cultural diversity and problem-solving to help resolve conflicts, said Terri Robinson, the center's administrator.

Ms. Robinson said she hopes the program will result in fewer suspensions and higher attendance rates but that for now success is measured by anecdotes. "We hear that students are referring themselves to the program," she said. "It's a way to save face instead of fighting after school."

On hand for the ribbon-cutting were more than a dozen children -- all peer mediators -- who performed a rap song and read an anti-violence poem.

"Since we had the peer mediation, I haven't seen any violence" in school, said Towane Robinson, a Harlem Park Middle School seventh-grader. "Before, I used to see a lot of fights and people just talking back to the teachers . Now that we have peer mediators, I have not seen any of that."

Highlandtown Elementary School has had peer mediation -- which is voluntary and confidential -- for three years. "We help solve conflicts so there will be no fights, so we can make our school a safer place," said fifth-grader Pedie Edwards.

Pedie's counselor, Judy Gilchriest, said conflict has decreased in the school since the program began. "I can see how helpful it is to be able to have someone to turn to when a problem comes up. It stops it before it snowballs into the community," she said.

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey praised peer mediation as "an important part of educating people on how to live."

"I'm really excited. This is the culmination of something we've been trying to work on," Dr. Amprey said.

"It's sad that our energies have to focus on violence and violence reduction, but the only thing worse would be ignoring it."

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