Over the past five years, national research and crime surveys have called attention to the extent of serious violence by and against youth.1 Educators have been bombarded with a variety of content and behavioral strategies to prevent, reduce, and intervene against youth violence. The research community has bemoaned the lack of data on the results of such programs, while educators have pondered the benefits of placing yet one more demand on an already over-full curriculum.
Psychologists such as Laurence Steinberg of Temple University and Edward Zigler of Yale University agree that the key to reducing violence by youth is good parenting. Children who are raised with warmth and firmness and are encouraged to be autonomous are unlikely to develop violent behavior. Given that violence prevention or intervention programs must start early, be long term, and be comprehensive, what role can schools play?
For the past three years, a national coalition of law-related education projects, working under the rubric Youth for Justice, has been trying to answer that question. With funding from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, organizations in the coalition have designed and implemented school-based programs at the elementary and high school level to test the following hypothesis:
Increasing student affinity for social institutions, such as law, government and community, in combination with increased cognitive and social skills in those areas, will result in changes in student beliefs and actions.
As is often the case, resources were too limited to allow research results based on perfectly parallel sites and/or longitudinal data collection. The project coordinators chose an approach that used:
1 standard research practices to guide program definition, site selection, the limitation of variables, and other factors;
2 existing violence prevention research to indicate both the scope of the problem and promising elements to be included in the curriculum;
3 integration of the project into the social studies curriculum with special attention to professional development literature to enhance teacher involvement; and
4 participation of a research team to guide both implementation and evaluation.
This article reports on the programs developed for fifth graders in Chicago and Los Angeles. This is a work in progress. Preliminary results from the first year of implementation were used to reshape and revise some aspects of the project, which was awarded limited, continued funding based on early findings. The following is an overview of the problem, the research base, the project design, and the evaluation methodology.
Three findings about the extent of violence by and against youth are among the most significant in suggesting the urgency and importance of developing comprehensive, cognitive, school-based interventions:
1 Youth experience violence in places familiar to them, such as in and around schools. According to National Crime Victimization Surveys for 1985 to 1988, 37% of violent victimization of youth between 12 and 15 years of age occurred at school.2
2 There is a substantial increase in the violence victimization rates for adolescents.3 There were more than 1.55 million violent crimes committed against youth aged 12 to 17 in 1992, a 25% increase since 1988.4
3 About the same proportion of youth are committing serious violent offenses today as in 1980. However, today's violent acts are more lethal, and can result in serious injury or death.5 Between 1988 and 1992, juvenile arrests for murder increased by 51%, compared to 9% for adults.6
Two reports on youth violence published by the National Institute of Justice indicate the extent of violence in the schools. In one study of inner-city high schools in four states, 80% of student respondents reported that other students carried weapons to school, while 66% of respondents said they personally knew someone who carried weapons to school.7 In schools described as particularly troubled, one in five students had been shot at, stabbed or otherwise injured with a weapon at or en route to school.8 In a second study of students from nine high schools, 39% reported being in a situation that might have led to a fight in the previous week.9 Nineteen percent reported carrying a gun at least once during a six month period.10
The American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth, in its 1993 report titled Violence and Youth: Psychology's Response, confirms the evidence that the intensity of violence involving children and youth has increased dramatically, and that children are becoming involved in violence at an early age.11 Further, the APA report's identification of familial, societal, historical, and school factors as contributors to youth violence suggests that the causes of youth violence are both varied and complex.
The APA report includes recommendations for school-based primary prevention. It suggests that school-based programs which promote cognitive and social skills-such as social perspective- taking, alternative solution generation, self-esteem enhancement, peer-negotiation skills, problem-solving skills, and anger management-could have greater impact than is presently the case in preventing violence.12
The Research Sites
The Youth for Justice violence prevention study is currently underway in 17 5th grade classrooms in Chicago and Elgin Public Schools, and two 5th-6th grade classrooms in Montebello Unified School District (MUSD), Montebello, California.
The Montebello school is located in Bell Gardens, approximately 5 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. It has an enrollment of 1,880 students in grades 5 through 8. The ethnic composition of the school is 95.7% Hispanic/Latino; 2.07 % Caucasian; 1.7 % Pacific Islander; 0.37% African American; 0.05% Asian; and 0.05% Native American. Sixty-seven percent of the students are of limited English language proficiency. Eighty-five percent participate in the free or reduced-price lunch programs. The district has a high school drop-out rate of approximately 30%.
The Chicago and Elgin Public Schools are K-8 schools. They are located in different sections of the cities, are of different size, and serve students of different ethnicities. A description of two of the schools illustrates the wide range.
One school is located on Chicago's southeast side. Enrollment is 416 students. More than 85% of the students are low-income, with an annual student mobility rate of over 24%. The high school that most of the students will attend has a truancy rate of 3.7% and a drop-out rate of 16.9%. The ethnic composition is 77% Hispanic, with 20.9% Caucasian, and 1.9% African Americans. Nearly 25% of the students have limited English language proficiency.
The second Chicago school is located on the northwest side. It has an enrollment of 1,450 students. This is a more ethnically diverse campus, with 56.5% Hispanic, 20.1% Caucasian, 6.2% African American, 17% Asian American and .1% Native American students. The school has a 37% annual mobility rate, and 77% of its students qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program. The high school that students are most likely to attend has a 17.1% truancy rate and a 22.2% drop-out rate.
Law-related education, conflict resolution, and service learning are all strategies that contain important elements for preventing youth violence; however, none has shown significant results when used alone. While the details of the curriculum vary, these three components were incorporated at each site in the study.
All three components put students in contact with outside resource persons and stress collaboration over competition or individual work.
Community and Staff Resources.
At the Bell Gardens school, a task force of community agencies and parents assists in implementing the intervention. Other community resource persons and parents participate in classroom instruction. The community resource component includes a diversity of interests in the community, including the mayor, the chief of police, school board members, juvenile probation officers, judges, lawyers, and DARE officers.
At the Chicago schools, each teacher is paired with a lawyer team. The lawyers participate in up to six lessons at the school; accompany students on field experiences to court, law firms, and/or the Police Training Academy; and respond to individual student journal entries. Administrators, parents, and other community members also serve as important resource persons in student-conducted interviews and polls.
A program of staff development and on-going technical assistance is provided for administrators, teachers, community resource persons, and parents. Staff development stresses the content, instructional methods, and other activities in the curriculum. A portion of staff development is devoted to preparing teachers to administer and maintain such evaluative instruments as pre- and post-tests, attitudinal surveys, and teacher logs. Collaboration in program development, co-teaching, reflection, and administrative and parent support are key elements in the design to help ensure quality implementation and continued participation beyond the experiment.
The Importance of Collaboration
The variety of methodologies used in all three curriculum components (LRE, mediation, and service learning) stress collaboration over competition or individual work. The tasks are best accomplished by a group, and the product is only of the highest quality when everyone successfully accomplishes his or her task.
The combination of knowledge, skills, behaviors, and actions offered by the various curriculum components provides a model for positive youth development and addresses the risk factors outlined in the violence research. Learning objectives or outcomes are designed to meet measurable objectives consistent with the framework shown in Figure 1.
Evaluation Design and Preliminary Results
The research design for the program incorporates quantitative measurements of student knowledge, skills, and attitudes, as well as qualitative descriptions based on in-class observations, teacher logs, and focus group discussions with students, teachers, and parents. The results of the intervention at the four research sites are being compared with control groups.
At the program's onset, a variety of self-reporting data were collected to profile students' (1) attitudes about violence and antisocial behavior, (2) bonding to social institutions and positive social relationships, (3) cognitive and social skills, and (4) prevalence of aggressive or delinquent behavior. The knowledge test given to Chicago students included 15 items assessing student knowledge of the purpose and function of government, individual rights and responsibilities, and the role of citizens in monitoring and influencing change in the community. The attitude surveys measured beliefs related to authority figures, bonding with adults and peers, locus of control, cooperation, prosocial behavior, conflict resolution, the future, community, and school.
Multiple measures were appropriate due to the complexity of the research question. For example, one of the major objectives of the program was to help students generate and evaluate options. A multiple choice test was used to assess student attitudes and self-reported behaviors, but was not adequate to assess how students arrived at their conclusions. Class discussions, journals, and other written assignments helped provide more insight into this aspect of the program.
Impact on Students
As of this writing, the outcome measures for the second year are still being tabulated and analyzed. The study in Chicago is being conducted by Susan Hyatt of the Social Science Education Consortium using standardized pre/post survey instruments designed to measure changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. The first year findings showed that youth participating in the program demonstrated a significantly higher level of knowledge about law and governance, as well as a significant decrease in normative beliefs about the acceptability of aggression, when compared to control group youth.
In addition, one of the pilot schools on Chicago's southwest side dramatically improved on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) in social studies. The year before the implementation of the program, only 19.7% of the school's 5th grade students scored at or above the national norm. During the first year of the project, participating students-who, according to the teacher, were much more "challenging" in behavior and academic skill than the average student-did significantly better on the ITBS (45.45% scored at or above the national norm). The ITBS scores this year reflect an improvement in reading as well.
Results from Elgin confirm this trend toward improvement on the ITBS. Three schools reported more improvement on the test among students in the experimental groups than among those in the control groups. The experimental groups were composed of children who were more at risk than students in the control groups.
Results from focus group interviews with Chicago students indicate that youth strongly agreed (on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4=strongly agree) that participation in the program taught them ways to solve problems other than by using violence (average=3.63, year one; average=3.4, year two); had a better understanding of the reason for rules and laws (average=3.41, year one; average=3.5, year two); had a better understanding of how to help others solve problems (average=3.84, year one; average=3.4, year two); had learned to respect the opinion of others (average=3.45, year one; average=3.4, year two); and were more aware of their rights (average=3.95, year one; average=3.7, year two). Additionally, many youth reported that they now used violence less often when confronted by a problem, and tried to use mediation skills at home, although often unsuccessfully.
The Bell Gardens site in Los Angeles also reported positive results, based on an evaluation carried out by Dr. Mahtash Esfandiari of UCLA's Graduate School of Education. Based on classroom observations and focus groups, the evaluation found that students' vocabulary and comprehension were enhanced; knowledge of rights, responsibilities, and the prevention of violence was increased; and, students learned to respect each other and work in cooperative groups.
Quantitative findings indicated more positive outlooks among 6th grade boys; more positive attitudes toward community and pro-social behavior among both boys and girls; and more positive attitudes toward authority and law and enhanced self-control among 5th graders. All results were statistically significant (p-values <.05). In general, the developmental approach of the project, as applied in this curriculum, coupled knowledge increases with promising results for violence prevention among students in the populations involved.
In addition, the project has begun to develop a participatory model for teachers and students in a violence-prevention curriculum based not merely on providing antidotes to violence, but on offering positive, creative, and knowledge-based alternatives. The participation of students in the process of developing and evaluating their own progress not only validates the process, but provides a model for the adult behaviors of civic, democratic participation and responsibility that are the only real alternatives to violence.
Quality of Implementation
The two projects differed in approach to implementation. In Bell Gardens, staff did much of the actual teaching of students as a way to ensure implementation and provide on-going staff development. Teachers observed the reactions of students to the lessons, and reflected on the connections between methodologies and desired outcomes.
In Chicago, the staff development occurred through institutes, group meetings, and limited on-site help. Teachers were asked to keep a log, and encouraged to talk with staff and each other. Almost all of the conversation, however, was instigated by staff. Teachers still had too much on their plates to initiate conversation about the program.
Teacher observations and logs do, however, clearly indicate that the curriculum was adapted to personal teaching styles, perceived classroom needs, and the daily realities of teaching. Adaptations based on an understanding and belief in the project outcomes were natural and desirable. Due to a variety of factors, however, teachers were not always able to implement the curriculum fully. The vast majority of the teachers are preparing to conduct the program again next year. One teacher, however, has been reassigned to teach 1st grade, and another will assume more social work responsibilities.
An Authentic Assessment
The most powerful evidence of success for the program developers came as students completed their service projects and reflected on what they had learned. The projects included:
Students made progress both academically and socially. The "at risk" class in Bell Gardens began the year unable to complete a whole class period without several significant disruptions, and ended the year able to hold civil discussions. These students demonstrated their skills by putting on a mock trial. Children reported that the program had made a difference in their behavior, although one boy in Chicago admitted that he still hit people for calling him names. But now he at least checked to make sure they really had said what he thought they said.
Clearly these programs are a piece of the puzzle. They contribute to positive youth development and the reduction of violence by and against youth even as they develop important civic outcomes.
Not all at-risk children become involved in violence. Research indicates that a child is less likely to become either a perpetrator or a victim of violence if:
The child develops
The environment provides
The Youth for Justice research sites in Chicago and Los Angeles are designed to assess the extent to which the program:
1. Begin by explaining that one of the rights that our Constitution guarantees is the right to freedom of religion. The government cannot stop you from practicing your religion. The Preamble to the Constitution also says that government has the responsibility for insuring "domestic tranquillity," providing for the "common defense" (safety), and promoting the "general welfare" (helping everyone). Sometimes government has a hard time doing all of these things at once.
2. Introduce the story, "Sacred Blade at Heart of School Dispute" (student handout), in one of two ways: read it to the class and check for understanding, or pair students with different roles-one to summarize and the other to question.
3. Create groups of two to four. Each group must prepare to participate in a mediation session. The principal has been asked to mediate between Rajinder's parents, who want him to wear the kirpan to school, and other parents, who are worried that their children could be hurt or could think that the "no weapons" rule doesn't have to be obeyed. Have students discuss the issue to be mediated within their groups. Then either redivide the class into triads by lining students up in three rows (first row: Rajinder's parents, second row: principal, third row: other parents), or select three or four people to role play the mediation in front of the class.
NOTE: This lesson is part of a violence curriculum for fifth graders developed by the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago and the American Bar Association's Youth Education for Citizenship Committee. The curriculum is in use in the schools described in the accompanying article, with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Delinquency Prevention. This particular lesson is based on an actual 1994 California case. The court ruled that Rajinder had the right to wear the kirpan provided it did not endanger anyone at school. Several other school districts allow students to wear their kirpans to school. One school district insisted that the kirpan be put in its jacket so that it couldn't be removed, and blunted the end of the knife.
When the principal asked him why he had brought the knife to school, Rajinder explained that it was part of his religion. Rajinder is a Sikh, a religion founded in India 500 years ago. There are about 100,000 Sikhs in the United States.
The knife (called a kirpan) symbolizes the religious duty to help people in need. It's a sacred symbol. When Rajinder was baptized, he was told not to pull it out and never to hurt anyone. The kirpan, a curved, dull-edged dagger worn in a case, hangs around Rajinder's neck under his clothing. The kirpan is supposed to remind the Sikhs of their religious duty to defend people who can't defend themselves. It is about as sharp as a dull knife.
The principal is in charge of enforcing a school rule. The rule says no one may bring a weapon to school. The purpose of the rule is to help keep the school peaceful and safe for everyone. Many parents are worried that their children could be hurt if weapons are allowed in school.
Should the principal allow Rajinder to wear his kirpan?
In groups of two to four, write down what Rajinder's parents want and what other parents want. Now imagine you are the principal of the school and you have been asked to mediate between Rajinder's parents, who want him to wear the kirpan to school, and other parents, who are worried that their children could be hurt or could think that the "no weapons" rule doesn't have to be obeyed.
Make a list of the things that all of the parents might be able to agree about. Be ready to share your ideas with the rest of the class and to participate in a mediation simulation. Can a plan be developed to satisfy all of the parents?
American Bar Association
Division for Public Education
541 N. Fairbanks Court, 15th Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60611
I'm the People: It's About Citizenship and You
This supplemental series provides teachers and lawyers with lessons on four key topics: Making Rules and Laws, Resolving Conflicts, Serving the Community, and Influencing Public Policy.
The adjunct ERIC Clearinghouse for Law-related Education
A joint effort of the American Bar Association and the Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC). Each year, the project acquires more than 150 law-related curricula, research reports, articles, and other entries to be included in the world's largest and most widely used educational database.
Center for Civic Education
5146 Douglas Fir Road
Calabasas, California 91302
Violence in the Schools: Developing Prevention Plans
This nine-lesson student book and teacher's guide addresses a national problem by having students develop school violence prevention plans. It encourages the use of community resource people, such as police officers, legislators, judges, and state and local government officials.
Constitutional Rights Foundation
601 S. Kingsley Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90005
The Challenge of Violence
This supplementary text with three units is designed for government, civics, 20th century U.S. history, contemporary problems, and law-related education courses. Unit I places the problem of violence in a historical context and discusses the causes and risk factors related to violence. Unit II examines how law and public policy seek to address the problem at the local, state, and national levels. Topics include gun control, curfews, school uniforms, and prevention versus punishment. Unit III looks at what individuals and non-governmental organizations can do and are doing to address the problem. It also help students to conduct their own service learning public safety projects. The teacher's guide includes 21 interactive lessons and 18 reproducible masters. Three readings with procedures to stimulate "civil conversations" on controversial issues help students to practice the art of conversation in order to deepen understanding of the issues and each other's points of view.
Criminal Justice in America
This is a comprehensive secondary text on the subjects of criminal law, procedure, and criminology. Divided into six chapters-Crime, Police, the Criminal Case, Corrections, Juvenile Justice, and Solutions-it includes extensive readings supported by directed discussions, role plays, mock trials, cooperative learning, and the use of outside resource experts. It has up-to-date statistics and a number of appropriate case studies.
Reviewing the Verdict: Issues of Police, Justice, and Change
This multimedia package uses the Rodney King and Reginald Denny beating cases to explore current social and political issues affecting our criminal justice system. It examines a variety of controversial issues from multiple points of view, for example, What is reasonable force? What is the media's responsibility in informing the public? What can or should be done to create a more color-blind justice system?
Terrorism in America
This public policy packet includes readings, discussion questions, and interactive activities on domestic terrorism today and in the past. Topics include the Oklahoma City bombing, how other countries handle terrorism, the post World War I Palmer "Red Raids," and talk radio as a playground for free speech or a forum for hate.
Youth and the Police
The need to balance public safety and individual rights continues to be a hot topic with students. This multidimensional curriculum includes topics such as the use of force, the laws of arrest and search, the Miranda rule, and police governance and discipline. It blends law-related education and service learning strategies in one comprehensive package, including an adaptation of CRF's Police Patrol simulation and procedures for creating and conducting a service learning project on improving community-police relations and neighborhood safety.
Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago
407 South Dearborn Street, Suite 1700
Chicago, Illinois 60605
VOICE (Violence-Prevention Outcomes in Civic Education)
A supplementary social studies program designed for elementary students as a solid introduction to civics and American government, VOICE infuses law-related education, conflict resolution skill building, and service learning to address state and national civics standards.
Educators for Social Responsibility
23 Garden Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
Teaching Young Children in Violent Times: Building a Peaceable Classroom
By Diane E. Levin. This is a preschool-grade 3 violence prevention and conflict resolution guide. It examines how young children learn about peace and violence, and offers guidance on such topics as "Facilitating Play: Combating the Negative Influence of Media and Media-linked Toys."
Conflict Resolution in the Middle School
By William J. Kreidler. This curriculum and teaching guide is divided into three parts: conflict skill lessons, diversity and conflict lessons, and infusing conflict resolution into the curriculum. It defines conflict, examines reasons for conflict escalation, and presents strategies for conflict de-escalation.
Phi Alpha Delta Public Service Center
P. O. Box 3217
Granada Hills, California 91394
Respect, Reflect, Resolve
This series of lessons helps middle and high school students resolve conflict peacefully, and contains guidelines for setting up a school-based peer mediation program.
Respect Me, Respect Yourself
Designed for elementary students, this book teaches them about conflict resolution and the Bill of Rights through a variety of interactive games and activities.
Street Law, Inc.
(formerly the National Institute for Citizen Education in the Law, or NICEL)
711 G Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Between HOPE and FEAR: Teens Speak Out On Crime and the Community
This extensive survey on how teenagers view crime was conducted for the national Teens, Crime and the Community Program by Louis Harris in 1995. TCC is a collaboration between Street Law, Inc. and the National Crime Prevention Council. The topics polled could be useful for initiating student discussion in secondary classrooms.
Teens, Crime, and the Community
This text covers conflict management and teen victimization issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, acquaintance rape, and violent crime. Students apply their knowledge by designing community service projects to make their schools and neighborhoods safe.
We Can Work It Out! Problem Solving through Mediation
These lessons engage students in interactive strategies that build such personal conflict management skills as recognizing triggers, using active listening, and generating and evaluating options. There are 17 teen dispute scenarios.
1. D. Elliot, Youth Violence: An Overview, prepared for Aspen Institute's Children Policy Forum, Children and Violence Conference (February 1994).
2. B. Allen-Hagen and M. Sickmund, Juveniles and Violence: Juvenile Offending and Victimization (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, July 1993).
3. Elliot, op. cit.
4. National Crime Victimization Survey (1992).
5. Elliot, op. cit.
6. Allen-Hagen and Sickmund, op. cit.
7. J. Sheley, Z. McGee and J. Wright, Weapon-related Victimization in Selected Inner-city High School Samples (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 1995).
9. W. DeLong, Preventing Interpersonal Violence Among Youth: an Introduction to School, Community and Mass Media Strategies (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 1994).
11. American Psychological Association Commission on Youth and Violence, Violence and Youth: Psychology's Response (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1993).
13. C. Pereira, Linking Law-related Education to Reducing Violence By and Against Youth (Bloomington, IN: ERIC Digest EDO-SO-95-5, September 1995).
Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R., and J. Miller. "Risk and Protective Factors for Alcohol and Other Drug Problems in Adolescence and Early Adulthood: Implications for Substance Abuse Prevention." Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 112, No. 1 (1992).
Pittman, K., O'Brien, R., and M. Kimball. "Youth Development and Resiliency Research: Making Connections to Substance Abuse Prevention." Prepared for the Issue Forum on Successful Youth Development: Building Resiliency (February 1993).
Wright, N. From Risk to Resiliency: The Role of Law-related Education. Calabasas: CA: Center for Civic Education, 1994.
Youth for Justice is a national law-related education program composed of five national organizations (The American Bar Association, The Center for Civic Education, The Constitutional Rights Foundation, Phi Alpha Delta, and Street Law) and programs in every state. The programs described in this article are collaborative efforts of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago and the American Bar Association in Chicago, and the Constitutional Rights Foundation and the Center for Civic Education in Los Angeles. This research project is funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Carolyn Pereira is Executive Director of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. Kenneth Rodriguez is Director of Curriculum Development for the Center for Civic Education.