Students mount campaign against abuse Weeklong effort aims to raise awareness of domestic violence

March 27, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Students at Taneytown's Northwest Middle School are reading, writing and raising money this week as part of a domestic-violence awareness campaign.

They have made and hung posters about domestic violence in the hallways, and art students are working on a permanent display.

To mark the weeklong event, students hung purple ribbons from the school roof. Smaller ribbons, along with wallet-sized information cards, were being passed out in homerooms by seventh-grade reading students in return for a $1 donation.

"My goal is to inform people in the school and community that domestic violence is not their fault," said teacher Catherine C. Berry. "That they need to break the silence -- that they can call 911 for immediate help, that they can talk to a guidance counselor or school administrator about the problem, and that there is a local program."

The morning announcements this week have featured male teachers reading a series of broadcasts about how to get help and what to expect after a call to 911 or the crisis hot line.

"I think it's a wonderful idea. I think they should try to do that with all the schools," said county State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes. "I haven't heard of anything like it."

Although children occasionally call for help, Barnes said, they would be more likely to act if they were "aware of how it could be done and what would happen."

At least a few students have sought out teachers or counselors to confide their problems, said Berry, an extended-enrichment program teacher.

"We don't want to say, 'All you who have been abused, line up here,' so it's kind of been like things fell into place -- the staff wear their ribbons, and people are so supportive," she said. "There's a real sense of school spirit, working to help other people together."

One thing that fell into place, said language arts teacher Emily Kissner, was that her seventh-grade classes were beginning a persuasive writing unit. Now, they've written letters to local businesses to solicit donations.

Wednesday, they were thrilled to receive their first contribution from a local contractor.

"More women are injured by domestic violence than by rape, auto accidents and muggings combined," student Justin C. Oliver informed one potential donor in a polite letter. "You could be saving someone's life by helping this program."

"Children who have been beaten usually grow up to a life of crime or drugs," wrote Gage Rindt. "We are trying to stop the violence in this country and even the world. Time after time helping the battered, the beatings will be less and less."

Later, Gage noted, "Usually we don't do stuff for real, we pretend about it. But here we actually wrote to the companies and asked them to donate. It was cool."

Several students wrote more than the one required letter, Kissner said, or took letters to people they know.

The money will be donated to the Carroll County Domestic Violence Center in Westminster. Berry recently undertook a similar campaign at Sykesville Middle School, and students raised $500 -- among the largest donations to the agency.

The Northwest students have raised $302.

Reading teacher Gayle Sands said her seventh-graders are reading ahead in the topical books she's assigned, including "The Lottery Rose," "Cracker Jackson," "The Great Gilly Hopkins" and "Homecoming," which include passages she described as grim, chilling and sad.

"They argue with me. They want to know, 'How could anybody do that?' You can see they are visibly moved," Sands said. "But they whipped through the book," and some are already reading other books by the same authors.

Gary Cofflin, domestic-violence investigator for the Carroll County state's attorney's office, said, "Whoever is teaching this or giving this advice, I commend them. A lot of people don't realize how it does affect children. Children are part of the scene."

Children exposed to violence tend to repeat it, said Cofflin, a former state trooper. Caring adults can break that cycle, he said.

Berry said she was surprised when she was contacted this week by representatives of the Maryland State Police and a local family-services group asking her to share information about the program with them.

"So that was great -- and very unexpected," Berry said. "I hope we can save some lives."

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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