Tuesday, December 18, 2012

M.S. 8 Comes to Visit!

Last week, 40 sixth graders from M.S. 8 Brooklyn visited the YOasis (the YO S.O.S. workshop space) as part of their unit, "Can art change the world?" With one class on Thursday and one class on Friday, the YO S.O.S. staff led workshops in which we discussed murals that the students had seen in Crown Heights, drawings and paintings that other Brooklyn youth made last year as part of our annual Arts to End Violence contest, and how art can play a part in changing minds and reducing violence.

The middle schoolers were enthusiastic about their unit. They were eager to tell us what they were learning! They had tons of opinions about art and how it can be used to make Brooklyn--and the world--a safer place.

One student offered, "Maybe we can tell people who are about to use violence to express themselves through art instead.  It could help them calm down and make different choices."  At the end of each workshop, the students got in on the action themselves, designing and drawing anti-violence art. Their exciting, inspiring, and beautiful posters now fill the YOasis, as their energy and passion did last week.

  And we hope that all of them, plus many, many more Brooklyn students, submit to Arts to End Violence in the spring! (Stay tuned-- more information on that coming in the next few months!) YOUTH POWER!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Talking to Children About Violence

From The Center for School Mental Health.

Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers

High profile acts of violence, particularly in schools, can confuse and frighten children who may feel in danger or worry that their friends or loved-ones are at risk. They will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. Parents and school personnel can help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears.

1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.

2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient. Children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. Some children prefer writing, playing music, or doing an art project as an outlet. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.

3. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
* Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.

* Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.

* Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to
school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.

4. Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk.

5. Observe children's emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can indicate a child's level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.

6. Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children,
even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.

7. Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don't push them if they seem overwhelmed.

Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Children

* Schools are safe places. School staff work with parents and public safety providers (local police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.

* The school building is safe because ... (cite specific school procedures).

* We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.

* There is a difference between reporting, tattling or gossiping. You can provide important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.

* Don't dwell on the worst possibilities. Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and the probability that it will affect our school.

* Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help make us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event.

* Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

* Stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun. Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence.

* Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

One Day Without A Shooting

On Wednesday, November 28th the Daily News reported that a full day had come and gone without a shooting, stabbing, or slashing in New York City. This news (or non-news) was the paper's front-page story, and we discussed it in our workshop that day.

The fact that New York went about 36 hours without a violent crime (from late Sunday, November 25, to the morning of Tuesday, November 27) has since made news around the country and even abroad.

We discussed why this fact was so striking to people, as well as what was good and bad about it. The good, of course, includes the news itself—that no one in the city was a victim of a gun- or knife-related crime on Monday—as well as its relationship to broader trends: NYPD statistics show that this year will probably have the fewest murders in the city since 1960, and a 20-percent drop from last year.

The bad part is that a day without a violent crime was, until Monday, literally unheard of, and, when it happened, it was so surprising that it was front-page news. This story reminds us that every other day at least one person in our city is violently harmed. On top of that, the "streak" of 36 hours began and ended with shootings in Brooklyn. In reporting the good news of Monday's peace, we were reminded of the violence that happened on every other day.

We at YO S.O.S. are working to change these realities. We are trying to do our part. Hopefully we'll see a lot more days without violent crime—but we're not just hoping for that; we're working to make that the reality of tomorrow. We believe can youth can be the people that make that dream a reality.  YOUTH POWER!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Full Week For YO S.O.S.

Last  week was a very busy one for YO S.O.S. and our parent organization, the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center. On top of our normally scheduled workshops, the youth organizers had two special events this week.

On Tuesday, four youth organizers took part in a forum hosted at the Center for Court Innovation and facilitated by A+NYC, a organization that  brings people together to "envision an excellent and equitable public school system under the city’s next administration." The event sought to gain high school students' perspectives on education issues in the lead-up to the 2013 mayoral campaign.

Just a few of our suggestions for education policy changes in 2013 
With a crowded field of candidates that will produce a new mayor for the first time in 12 years, A+NYC saw a critical role for young New Yorkers in shaping the tone and substance of the education discussion in the campaign. Along with the youth organizers, about 15 members of the Center for Court Innovation's Youth JusticeBoard shared thoughts about their schools, the current state of education in the city, and what they would like to see mayoral candidates—and the winner, the city's next mayor—change about and bring to city schools.

The next day, ten youth organizers attended and helped run a very special event at the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, the center's Appreciation Ceremony in Honor of Sharon "Ife" Charles. Ife Charles worked at CHCMC for 13 years, before leaving this summer when she was promoted to the Center for Court Innovation's Citywide Coordinator of Anti-violence Programs. The event honored Ife, CHCMC, and all of the center's community partners. The youth organizers greeted guests, helped make sure the event ran smoothly, and created a wonderful tribute to Ife, a paper tree onto which guests added leaves with personal messages of thanks. To read more about the event from Greg Berman, the Executive Director of the Center for Court Innovation, click here.

At the end of the week, we were able to rest up and reflect on a very exciting, full several days in which youth organizers played important roles, both inside and outside of YO S.O.S. We hope to build on these experiences, deepening our engagement with Crown Heights and the issue of gun violence, and expanding our reach to others in New York City. YOUTH POWER!