Youths air concerns on school violence Teen-agers gather for rap on TV about fighting among peers

November 10, 1996|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

Schoolyard squabbles just aren't what they used to be. Even in Howard County.

Gangs have come to Howard schools, and the overall level of violence is rising.

So said a gathering of 37 concerned teen-agers who met to discuss violence in Howard County's middle and high schools last week during a taping of "Youth Rap Session IV," a low-key talk show set to air on Cable 15 this week.

Sponsored by the county's Executive Ad Hoc Committee on Human Rights, the rap session -- the fourth of its kind -- took place Tuesday in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

Welcoming a chance to bask in 15 minutes of local cable television fame, the smartly dressed youths talked about fighting and how it affects their lives.

"Well, this isn't like the Oprah show or anything like that," said Austrania Patterson, a 17-year-old senior from Atholton High School. "I mean, it is just Howard County TV. But I wanted to come out and talk because people at my school fight at the drop of a hat, and I get really sick of it."

Crystal Blue, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Owen Brown Middle School, also thought the session was a good idea.

"Most adults ask other adults what kids think instead of asking kids themselves," she said. "They're not aware of what's going on at all. This is a good way to let them know what we think."

And according to official reports, there's a lot going on.

The number of robberies and aggravated assaults committed by youths has been rising, police data show.

Suspensions for violent behavior in Howard schools rose 34.7 percent from the 1993-1994 school year to 1994-1995, while enrollment increased less than 5 percent in that period. Violent behavior leading to suspensions ranged from verbal threats and theft to physical attacks and weapons possession.

Last month, a fight involving 25 to 30 students -- white students vs. black students -- outside Columbia's Wilde Lake High prompted a call for more peer mediation and conflict-resolution training at the school.

And county police have been saying since last spring that they are seeing signs of gang activity.

"There are gangs in Howard's schools now, which is different from a couple of years ago," said Officer Mark Richmond, who patrols five of the county's high schools as part of the department's anti-gang and anti-juvenile-crime initiatives. "Some of the kids came from Prince George's or Baltimore schools, where the environment is totally different -- and Howard is getting some of that."

Program on gangs

Tomorrow, Sgt. Rick Maltz, head of the department's youth services section, will present a program on gang-resistance education and training at 7: 30 p.m. at the media center of Owen Brown Middle School at 6700 Cradlerock Way in Columbia's Owen Brown village.

Past TV rap sessions sponsored by the county focused on racism, sexism and cultural diversity, said Jim Henson, administrator of the Office of Human Rights and coordinator of the event. Similar rap sessions held in the summer of 1994 helped bring the violence issue into focus for the first time, he said.

"We're trying to develop a forum for these kids to articulate what they're going through," said Henson, who sent out hundreds of fliers to area schools to attract participants to the session. "Adults can learn a lot about how to solve some of these problems by listening to the kids.

"I've been amazed by how well some of these young people are able to articulate very sensitive issues," Henson said.

During the session, Pia Jordan, a Cable 15 news anchor and moderator, moved smoothly through the group of teens, as many of them expressed a sense of hopelessness and frustration that the fighting in their schools couldn't be stopped.

Tae Yee, a 15-year-old sophomore at Centennial High School, said the sources of teen-agers' fights may seem trivial to adults, but they are vital to those ages 13 to 18.

"Girls fight over 'he said, she said' stuff, more like what people are talking about," said Yee. "Guys fight more for respect. In our school, a lot of people look down on Asians. So it's like, you've got to show them that you're just as hard or whatever."

St. Johnn Plondell, an 18-year-old Centennial High graduate, thinks that the idea of gangs in Howard County is an oxymoron.

"Some of these kids who are fighting are just trying to be 'hard' when there's no need to out here in Columbia," said Plondell, who has a pierced tongue and a gentle demeanor. "This isn't Miami or Baltimore. It's like, kids out here get mad if their parents buy them a car that costs under $20,000."

Mixed message

A smattering of adults showed up at the taping -- many just to listen, with a few smiling and nodding at some of the comments from the teen-agers.

Afterward, Bill Herndon, former personnel administrator for Howard County, said it might not be possible to stop fighting entirely.

"Violence is as American as apple pie," he said. "Let's face it, Billy the Kid and Dillinger are part of the nation's psyche, and we're sending a mixed message when we tell kids to resolve conflicts without fighting."

But Richmond said that more Howard students needed to participate in discussions about fighting -- instead of fighting.

"The unfortunate thing about this session," he said, "is that the kids who are at risk, the ones who really need to attend something like this, aren't here."

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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